As a homosexual from the beautiful state of Washington, I could not be further from the country genre – geographically, sartorially or culturally. However, during my two-quarter-long college experience, I have developed a strange relationship with country music. It began with Trixie Mattel’s unique take on country in her albums Two Birds and One Stone – especially her most famous track, “Mama Don’t Make Me Put On The Dress Again.” My fascination with the genre then spread – first to other queer country artists like Lil Nas X and Orville Peck and then, finally, to the queen herself, Dolly Parton. Classics like “Jolene,” “Two Doors Down” and “Love is Like a Butterfly” topped my Receiptify in February.
My country journey seems to have come at a perfect time. Dolly Parton released her first non-Christmas album in five years on Friday, March 4, and it has solidified my parasocial love for this woman. She came from humble beginnings and gives back to those who built her up with a staggering amount of charity work – famously giving $1 million to help fund the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Dolly Parton appears to be completely unchanged by her fame and success, a rarity among the majority of the figures we hold in cultural celebrity. Interviews with her are incredibly enjoyable because of her humble attitude and humor, as shown in her fascinating Vanity Fair Interview.
Run, Rose, Run is her 48th studio album, with 12 tracks and a fairly short 39-minute runtime. A lot of the songs sound like standard country tracks, but Dolly’s angelic voice, even at 76, carries many of the tracks high and above what they could have been without it. It may just be because of my outsider perspective to country, but the album really had me hooked at every step.
The first track, “Run,” is a great opener and really captures the feel of a county fair – the closest I’ve come to real country in my own life – with banjos and a heavy dollop of her signature twang. The track “Woman Up (And Take It Like A Man)” has a pretty direct message of “Lean In” feminism with lines like, “Look like a woman, think like a man / Be as good as or better than.” This style of feminism, where women focus on conforming to masculine stereotypes rather than looking for actual change, has sort of gone out of style of late and it makes the song’s message feel old, but it makes sense in the context of her career. She grew up in the ’80s, the peak of “Lean In” feminism, and worked on the film 9 to 5, which has this same message.
The standout of the album is, in my opinion, “Blue Bonnet Breeze.” Maybe it’s just because of the recent false spring in Evanston, but the whole song gives me a calming feeling. It’s like I’m in a sunny field alone with Dolly Parton serenading me with an old tale played on her guitar (pronounced “gee-tawr,” I have learned). The simple and slow melody underlined with a heavy dose of strings carried me along feeling like a cool breeze on a hot afternoon. The song essentially tells the tale of Romeo and Juliet done Southern with a city boy and a country girl. Their story has a twist ending (no spoilers) in the bluebonnet field we imagine ourselves in with Dolly. This twist really emphasizes the feeling of Dolly weaving a fable she just remembered about the flowery field. The song instantly makes me feel bright and warm. I think it’s worth a listen, even if you’re not into country.
My country music arc has been an interesting development this quarter – I can’t predict how much further it will go – but many of the tracks on Dolly Parton’s 48th (48th!) studio album have helped me down my meandering, gravely, summery path deeper into Southern hospitality.
Graphic by Hope Cartwright.