Most casual music fans know that Dolly Parton capitalized on her glamorous image and personality to achieve true superstar status. Unfortunately, to many people, Parton’s celebrity stature has often overshadowed her creative talents as one of the ablest songwriters in country music. If so, amends have been made to the Country Music Hall of Fame member with a newly released tribute album comprised of tunes she’s composed during her career.
Just Because I’m a Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton (Sugar Hill Records), which is titled after Parton’s first solo album on RCA in 1968, brought together an all-star female cast of artists who pay homage to Dolly. “To have all these great people sing my songs, it makes you feel old for one thing,” Dolly tells CMT News with a laugh. “But it makes you feel proud as a songwriter because I take great pride in that.”
Parton did re-record one of her songs for the CD. She put a rhythm & blues feel to the title cut, “Just Because I’m a Woman.”
Shania Twain is accompanied by Alison Krauss and Union Station on Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” here. “I had to do that song, and she (Dolly) sings harmony on it as well. It’s just like a dream recording for me,” Twain says.
“It’s a song that was in my childhood repertoire for many years,” the Canadian native recalls. “I know the song intimately, and it’s just something that I related to very well. I often wore secondhand clothes as a kid.”
“I’ve stitched a lot of my socks back together,” Twain says of her impoverished childhood. “We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. I remember wearing rubber boots all through winter, and we have 40 below winters in Canada where I’m from. That song of course, I mean it’s much deeper than that. But the whole symbolism of that coat I related to very well.”
Krauss, who was a teenager when she first worked with Parton, put a swampy, Mississippi delta feel to the hit single, “9 to 5.” Originally, she had planned to record “About Suzanne,” about a cheating situation, but her bass player, Barry Bales, suggested they tinker around with their version of the popular movie soundtrack.
“I remember we went into a practice room that night, and Barry and I sang through it a little bit and we thought well, that’ll work. (Gary Smith) played upright piano and Barry played electric bass with a pick, and so we tried it differently and it worked out.”
Krauss, who is vying with her mentor for this year’s coveted CMA Female Vocalist of the Year trophy, first performed “9 to 5″ while in the fifth grade at the local American Legion hall.
Another bluegrass diva, Rhonda Vincent, harmonized on “Dagger Through the Heart” with rocker Sinead O’Connor, who calls Parton a “f—ing genius.” Vincent simply says she admires the singer/songwriter.
“She is a lady who can do anything she wants to do, but yet what you see is what you get,” Vincent recalls. “I see people all the time, they go, ‘Is she really like she seems?’ Yes, she is everything that she seems to be. We were recording with her one time and they were bringing her tomatoes out of the garden. She said, ‘I’m going to go home and fry those up.’ You just don’t think of her like that.”
Newcomer Mindy Smith took on the challenge of interpreting Parton’s classic, “Jolene” for the CD.
“In the studio when we were playing it, I really had to stop several times because emotionally I was really set off, “Smith remembers. “It affected me tremendously.”
“She first of all is a spectacular songwriter so I think that I really have a very deep feeling for her because of our songwriting,” Parton says of Smith. “The fact that she writes that good and then chooses to do one of my songs was really touching.”
Parton made a cameo in Smith’s first music video, “Jolene,” which is currently airing on CMT. “It’s almost like I’m the ghost of 30 years ago when I wrote the song,” Parton says, in a kidding way. “It’s kind of like I kind of know what’s happening. I’ve been through that.”
Melissa Etheridge, who teamed with Parton for an upcoming episode of CMT Crossroads, laid down the tracks for “I Will Always Love You.” “When you hear Dolly sing it, your heart breaks,” Etheridge says, in a released statement. “I wanted to pay tribute to her and the song by getting as close to that emotion as I could.”
Norah Jones covers “The Grass Is Blue.” “Everyone said, ‘well, that’s an odd choice for her,’” Parton recalls, “but the way she did it was just wonderful.”
“I was really touched by the way everybody took the songs and just made them their own and the different interpretations of them.”
Other artists appearing on the album are Emmylou Harris (who also contributed liner notes), Allison Moorer, Joan Osborne, Kasey Chambers, Shelby Lynne and Me’Shell NdegeOcello.