Dolly Parton’s latest album ‘Dumplin’’ is the soundtrack to the film of the same name, in which the daughter of a former beauty queen follows in mother’s footsteps by entering a pageant, but this time not to pose but to protest. Jennifer Aniston plays the mother and Danielle Macdonald the daughter. The protesting teenager is something of a ‘plus size’, hence I guess, the title and why Parton is left with a somewhat less than inspiring album title.
Soundtracks can make odd curios. Unless they are a collection of ‘various artists’ (a la ‘Saturday Night Fever’ for example) they can suffer from loosely needing to represent the movie (in the way that Badly Drawn Boy’s ‘About a Boy’ had a couple of excellent tunes in amongst some film padding). There is no doubt ‘Dumplin’’ can stand alone as an album. Its twist is that songs obviously written for the film (such as ‘Girl in the Movies’) co-exist with re-recorded back catalogue with titles jimmied in, presumably, to the narrative (‘Dumb Blonde’ maybe?). In fact of the twelve songs fully half have been released before. And one ‘Jolene’ (inevitably) is on its seventh iteration. But, of course Parton is much cleverer than that and ‘Dumplin’’ is pure entertainment from an industry that knows how to hit the right buttons.
Central to this is Parton herself who is in a league where she can set her own rules. Bring in Midas-fingered writer/producer Linda Perry; throw in some of the stars of the film (Aniston and Macdonald on backing vocals anyone?) and the project is hovering around that comfortable median to attract maximum listener interest. And those re-recordings? How about some guest duets? These are mostly the best things on the album because despite Perry’s writing ability the new songs are weaker. The opening number ‘Here I Am’, dates back to 1971. This time 21st-century studio craft makes it more powerful, more pop than country, with the gospel backing having greater depth than the original. The song features Sia who may well be new to Parton fans given that her successful previous collaborations include David Guetta and Rhianna. The partnership works well, though whether either artist will pick up new fans as a result is moot.
Other collaborations are more predictable; Elle King, Miranda Lambert, Allison Krauss, Macy Gray feature, among others. ‘Why’ featuring Mavis Staples is one that really does conjure up ‘Age is just a number’ and ‘Showing the young ‘uns’ how it is done’ cliches. But it is a young one that steals the show; if Sia doesn’t pick up new listeners through this release than Willa Amai should. Aima features on ‘Here you come again’ which Dolly first recorded some 28 years before she was born. Her performance is remarkable. Oh, and those backing vocals by Jennifer Anniston? Check them out on ‘Push and Pull’ which isn’t half bad either!
Musically there isn’t anything here that will surprise. The tracks heel-to-toe between country (‘If we don’t’ and ‘Dumb Blonde’) and schmaltzy ballads such as ‘Girl in the Movies’ and ‘Red Shoes’. Ultimately, enjoyment rests on your devotion to Dolly; fans will love it, casual listeners will find moments to treasure and moments to skip. Ironically it’s ‘Jolene’ the track that was probably put on here to attract the ‘I know that one’ passer-by that doesn’t need to be here. Recorded as a ‘new string version’ it feels superfluous. ’Dumplin’’ does however give plenty to snack on.