Album review: Dolly Parton's 'Better Day'
In case you were wondering, Dolly Parton did not throw her lot in with Harold Camping, the Oakland-based radio personality who famously predicted that Judgment Day would take place last month. “Nobody knows when the end is coming, but some people tell you they do,” Parton sings at the top of her new studio album. “It might be today, it might be tomorrow, or in a million years or two.”
Perhaps her disbelief derives from her professional obligations: With a fresh record out and a world tour about to begin — it hits the Hollywood Bowl July 22 and 23 — this 65-year-old showbiz veteran can hardly afford a vacation, permanent or otherwise. More than that, though, Parton’s artistic project simply runs counter to the notion of surrender. She’s country music’s ultimate can-do gal, a reputation “Better Day” deepens with a dozen bright-eyed originals about painting rainbows in the sky and finding satisfaction with both Champagne and chocolate milk.
Stylistically, “Better Day” lands somewhere between Parton’s recent bluegrass albums and 2008’s “Backwoods Barbie,” which the singer’s public-relations apparatus billed as her long-awaited return to “mainstream country.” In “Just Leaving” and “Somebody’s Missing You” she deploys rootsy string-band arrangements with banjo and fiddle, while the pumped-up power ballad “Holding Everything” sounds like Kelly Clarkson covering Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”
But the proportion of acoustic to electric instruments here matters about as much as the dialogue does in the new “Transformers” film. Parton’s irrepressible personality is the star attraction, and on “Better Day” it shines.
— Mikael Wood
***1/2 (Three and a half stars out of four)