“When Life is Good Again”
Written by Dolly Parton
We’re so hungry for decency and empathy right now that it’s tempting to just type “Thank You, Dolly!” and give this song an A.
It feels like both of those virtues are in dangerously low supply these days, and Dolly Parton has a bottomless reservoir of both. She’s also a relentless optimist, and for the running time of “When Life is Good Again,” she can make you truly believe that things will not only go back to normal, but be better than they were before. Provided, of course, that we’re willing to put the work in.
Parton sounds so vulnerable, which may be as much because of age as it is circumstance. That makes the first two-thirds of the record tremendously powerful, with an intimacy that recalls Parton at her stripped down best. As she sings that “We’ve been brought down to our knees, we’ve been so ill at ease,” you can feel the ache of the pain she is experiencing because the world is suffering. Her assertion that “we need to change our ways and right our wrongs…open up our hearts and let the world in” is delivered in a whisper, as if it’s a dream too big to hope for right now, even if it’s the necessary cure for what ails us.
Which is why it was a mistake to bring in the choir. Sometimes the truth is just more powerful in a whisper, especially when the voices of hate and anger have so effectively claimed volume and noise as their own. We need calming voices right now that require us to lean in and listen. For most of “When Life is Good Again,” Dolly Parton is that voice, and until those final moments when other voices join her, it’s the deeply moving record that these dark times demand.