Dolly Parton: Back in the Saddle

Dolly Parton excels at being Dolly Parton, and I love her for it. On the cover of her new CD, my girl—now 62—reclines on a pile of hay in the back of a pickup truck, resplendent in a leopard-print bodysuit, her belt cinching a diaphanous, hot-pink trench coat around her wasp waist. What's with all the frisky imagery? The title of the album is "Backwoods Barbie," and Dolly clearly wants to make sure she's got our attention, because she's got a few things she'd like to say.

The CD's standout tune, "Better Get to Livin'," is, like "9 to 5" before it, a crackling anthem: a call to action for those who need to get right in life, because our time in this world is short. "You better stop whinin', pinin', get your dreams in line and then just shine, design, refine 'til they come true," she sings over a banjo in that voice of hers, still powerful and clear after all these years. She's like the life coach you never realized you needed. But don't look to cry on any padded, rhinestone-covered shoulders—especially hers. Dolly's got no patience for anyone peddling sob stories about being "overweight, underpaid or underappreciated," no sympathy for those who have let all of the pep go out of their step. "Your life's a wreck, your house is a mess, and your wardrobe way outdated," she sings at the bridge. "Better get to livin'." Talk about an unlikely admonishment in a song lyric: what's worse than a broken heart? Why, mousy hair and sweat pants! The most delicious touch, by the way, isn't on the album at all. It's in the video for "Better Get to Livin'," which features kitschy comedienne Amy Sedaris with a carnival-theme backdrop. Dolly has never cared much about being cool, but she loves throwing a wink our way every now and then.

After a brief detour into bluegrass on her past few albums, "Backwoods Barbie" is a return to mainstream country for our gal from the Great Smoky Mountains, and the sound is just as sweet to my ears. OK, yes, that cover of "Drives Me Crazy" by Fine Young Cannibals was a very bad idea, but I'm willing to forgive whoever convinced her otherwise. The woman is one of our national treasures, so let's cherish her for as long as we've got her. Some parts of Dolly are as plastic as anything that Mattel ever made, but on the whole, this is one Barbie who has always been for real.