‘Punchline’ is a strong word. But when I was growing up, Dolly Parton was long past her prime as a respected country super star. She was the chick with massive cans, the theme park named after herself and the wardrobe of nothing less than pure excess. In my house, she was also Burt Reynolds‘ co-star in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, a movie that got watched more often than I could ever understand with hindsight.
In the last decade or so, she’s moved passed those 80s and 90s years of pastiche and self parody, and moved into the glory years of elder statesmanship. But before all of that, there were those years and years of being a respected country super star. I’m trying to see what all the fuss was out back then, with Coat of Many Colors.
There’s a reason why the titular opener was the lead single and title track back in 1971, and why it’s one of her enduring hits to this day. Coat of Many Colors is a great showcase of Parton’s warbled vocals, her southern gospel roots and her down home, traditional humility.
Then it’s all fun, games and country music clichés with Travelling Man. Parton makes a story about losing a man to her own mother sound funny, quaint and even a little endearing. While My Blue Tears sounds like it’s straight from the soundtrack of O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?, where it would have been sung by the young daughters of George Clooney’s Everett.
The rest of Coat of Many Colors bounces around that basic spectrum of sounds and moods, and it only gets better with every song. I don’t know if this was redefining a genre back in the day, or expanding the horizons of what people thought of as country music, but it doesn’t really matter. Because even now, after 40 years and infinite cheap imitations, it’s still awesome.
Dolly Parton and Coat of Many Colors delivered exactly what I expected from Dolly Parton and Coat of Many Colors. And it did it in the best possible way. The tendency to form preconceptions gets bad wrap, because you only ever hear about the negative ones being justified or proven correct. But you can have positive preconceptions, and more of those should be highlighted when they’re proven correct.