Dolly Parton, "Better Day" (Dolly Records/Warner Bros.)
Dolly Parton never has hesitated to gamble when following her heart. That's why she's reached such heights in her career, and it's why occasional projects fail, sometimes in monumental fashion. "Better Day" isn't monumental by any means, but it does highlight Parton's periodic desire to make huge social statements.
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"Better Day" finds one of music's most dynamic personalities trying to inject some positivity in the world during these dire times. But she tries too hard for uplifting messages and grand musical arrangements. The music piles on choirs and crescendos, and the lyrics fall to platitudes and greeting-card generalities. It comes off as cheesy rather than meaty and substantial.
"These are wonderful times we are living in," Parton sings on "In the Meantime." While there can be plenty to savor about modern life, denying the strife weighing down the world seems too Pollyanna to have any meaning.
The relationship songs also lean on positive action, even when breaking off a partnership. Here, too, Parton presses too hard for a message rather than a realistic impression of how people relate.
One of America's most enduring artists can be excused for trying to use her songwriting to raise people up in an era of such tension and tragedy. But unfortunately, "Better Day" lacks the common touch of Parton's best work.
Check this out: "Somebody's Missing You" is the lone track where Parton settles into a relaxed acoustic arrangement, and on the simple expression of ache that occurs when yearning for someone who has left -- whether it's for a day or for good.