Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Jolene - an epic remake

Dolly Parton - singer, songwriter, actress, Walt Disney wannabe. Clearly a woman with at least double the talent of many of her peers.

But I feel sorry for those who primarily know Parton from one of three sources.

First, I feel sorry for those who know her as the songwriter for Whitney Houston's megahit "I Will Always Love You." Houston's performance is triumphant, and...um...brazen. (I'll explain later.) To put it bluntly, it's LOUD - nowhere near the understated, quiet, wistful original.

Second, I feel sorry for those who know her from her "Islands in the Stream" duet. No issue with the song - it's a good song. Which it should be, since the Gibb brothers wrote it. Kenny and Dolly did it well, but you could have had Barry Gibb and Barbra Streisand perform it and it would have done just as well.

This time period brings up the third - Dolly's solo hit "9 to 5." It's a rollicking good song that ties in well with the movie, but it's not the best thing that Dolly has ever done.

That honor is reserved for her early 1970s song "Jolene." Miles away from modern country, and much closer to Parton's bluegrass roots, "Jolene" was much more restrained than anything Whitney Houston ever did. Lyrically, the song also explored some rocky territory:

“Jolene” was a song about insecurity, fear, and jealousy....“Jolene” was a brooding, minor key tune that used repetitive language to emphasize the narrator’s anxiety.

Reportedly inspired by a tall redheaded bank clerk who seemed a bit too nice to her husband, Dolly spun her feelings about that largely innocuous situation into a dramatic lyric that took the form of a plea:

It's one of the most haunting country songs you'll ever hear. With the sparse background, Parton's quiet, pleading voice stands out prominently.

Now, fast forward.

Brazen (and Fonzerelli) are names used by British DJ Aaron McClelland. His Wikipedia biography is here. Singer Ellenyi (more commonly known today as Georgia Harrup) entered the Ibiza scene to collaborate with McClelland to create this rather unrestrained version of Parton's classic.

A version that works magnificently. Harrup isn't sitting in a holler near Pigeon Forge, and the "epic western" sounds can't be played on a dulcimer and fiddle, but the feelings in the lyrics are universal.

No idea what Parton thinks of the remake, but she always said nice things about Whitney Houston, so I'm sure she likes Brazen's take.

Or at least the royalties from same.

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