Dolly Parton has been so busy making Netflix content and helping to fund a Covid-19 vaccine that it’s sometimes easy to forget her day job as one of the great singer-songwriters. Then again, at this stage in her remarkable career, Parton is such a hardened multi-tasker that ‘Run, Rose, Run’ isn’t just her 48th studio album. Naturally, it’s also a companion piece to a novel she has co-written with mega-selling author James Patterson.
According to publishers Little, Brown and Company, the novel is a “thriller about a young singer-songwriter on the rise and on the run,” and this familiar premise definitely informs this album’s lyrics. The jaunty opening song, which sounds a bit like Parton’s classic 1970 single ‘Joshua’, is literally called ‘Run’. At the same time, many of these vignettes are sketched broadly enough to slot comfortably into Parton’s own story – or to be more accurate, her own immaculately honed mythology. When she sings “Just my ol’ guitar and me / Out to find my destiny” on ‘Big Dreams and Faded Jeans’, it’s easy to picture a teenage Dolly pitching up in Nashville to try her luck as a songwriter. Spoiler: she made it.
Though the album has a couple of giddy bluegrass romps, ‘Firecracker’ and ‘Dark Night, Bright Future’, Parton mainly cleaves to glossy country-pop. Nothing is as thrillingly kitsch as her 1978 country-disco banger ‘Baby I’m Burnin’, but Parton and co-producers Richard Dennison and Tom Rutledge can’t resist a few cheesy flourishes. ‘Snakes in the Grass’, a song that’s presumably about the Nashville bigwigs Parton never let outsmart her, ratchets up the melodrama with a very on-the-nose rattlesnake sound effect. “They strike in a flash, so you better watch your ass!” Parton sings with a hiss.
If Parton is very much in her comfort zone here, that’s really part of the fun. ‘Demons’ is a wistful duet with Ben Haggard, son of late country legend Merle, her former touring partner Merle. ‘Lost and Found’ contains a nod to ‘Amazing Grace’, a song Parton has covered in the past. The friendly feminist album ‘Woman Up (And Take It Like a Man)’ sounds exactly like you think it does. It all adds up to a thoroughly enjoyable listen that confirms what fans already know: even a middle-of-the-road Dolly Parton album has lashings of charm.
Release date: March 4
Record label: Butterfly