With all the glitz and glamor that comes with being an entertainer and country music icon, the most shocking thing Dolly Parton could do is release a stripped down country album. Of course, that’s exactly what she did. Parton went back to bare bones with “Pure and Simple,” an album that, as the name suggest, highlights the simple pleasure of country music.
The title track, funny enough, is actually of the less simple songs on the album. Another classic country ode to young love, “Pure and Simple” spices things up with backup from a mandolin. Paired with the acoustic chords, the mandolin gives a breath of life to an otherwise flat song. While the lyrics are sweet, they’re also repetitive and don’t offer much emotion beyond that.
The video follows the same simple theme: the lyrics appear on a series of polaroids hanging from a clothesline in a backyard. Admittedly, there’s not much anyone can do to make a lyric video flashier, but it would have been nice to see the love story in the lyrics unfold. It would have helped people connect more to the song than a series picture. I do have to credit Parton, though. The video certainly fits her “simple” aesthetic and manages to create a safe, homey vibe.
The second single, “Outside Your Door,” is almost the same as the title track. Instead of a series of polaroids, however, the lyric video shows a girl who’s supposed to be Parton (identified by the bright red nails) writing in her diary about her new romance. This creative choice does add more intimacy to the light-hearted track, but, once again, tempo changes are tired and formulaic.
The album as a whole features eight new tracks and a re-release of two tracks Parton originally performed with Porter Wagoner: “Say Forever You’ll Be Mine” and “Tomorrow is Forever.” The new recordings are much more mellow than the originals and do them a great disservice. The original recording of “Say Forever You’ll Be Mine,” especially, benefitted from a wide range of instrumentation and the beautiful harmony between Wagoner’s and Parton’s voice – not to say that Parton’s voice isn’t good on her own. She can definitely carry the song by herself, but it doesn’t have the same old-school country twang that made it so successful in the first place.
Still, despite having dragged Parton for being overly simple, I really do appreciate her determination to create an album without heavy mixing or backing instruments. The album is successful in that respect, and it does give listeners a taste of Parton’s roots, which is exactly what she wanted. The fact remains, however, that Parton is an entertainer and “Pure and Simple” just wasn’t entertaining.
Top Track: “Outside Your Door”
Verdict: Although the album lives up to its title, “Pure and Simple” is frankly too simple. I can appreciate Parton’s desire to create what’s essentially an acoustic country album (aren’t they all acoustic?), but there’s no real meat to the album. The songs all bleed into each other with none of the flair of modern country. Parton’s warbling voice is still iconic, though, which at least makes the monotony of the album bearable.