A big step up from her last few projects, Dolly Parton’s Blue Smoke is her most balanced album since Backwoods Barbie. While it lacks cohesion due to so many different styles being used, there’s a solid entry from every kind of Dolly – country Dolly, pop Dolly, mountain Dolly, gospel Dolly, duet-with-fellow-legend Dolly. While it isn’t likely to be anyone’s favorite Dolly Parton album because of this, it’s also unlikely that any fan of hers won’t find something here that reminds them of why they became a fan in the first place.
For me, the best moments include: a countrified cover of “Don’t Think Twice”, which is better than any cover I’ve heard of this Bob Dylan classic; “Try”, an inspirational number that closes the set; and “Banks of the Ohio”, her haunting and sympathetic take on the old mountain standard. Fans who prefer her pop sound will get a kick out of her take on Bon Jovi’s “Lay Your Hands on Me,” while completists who missed her recent collaborations with Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers will be happy that those are included here. For my money, that Rogers duet, “You Can’t Make Old Friends”, captures the grief over a lost friendship better than any song I’ve ever heard. It’s a potent theme that more songwriters should explore.
Standout Tracks: “Don’t Think Twice”, “Banks of the Ohio”, “You Can’t Make Old Friends” (with Kenny Rogers)