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Our critics' picks in new releases


It's a wonder producer Steve Buckingham hadn't done this sometime ago, since in addition to being a role model for a generation of female singers and songwriters, Dolly Parton has penned a good number of important songs among the 3,000 or so she's written. Besides focusing on her tremendous songwriting, Just Because I'm A Woman demonstrates her impact across several styles.

Buckingham recruited Parton admirers ranging from country superstars to up and coming singer-songwriters to mainstream pop artists. Similarly, the songs covered stretch over more than 30 years including early classics, pop and country smash hits, and selections from her recent "blue mountain" CDs, also on Sugar Hill. The album appears on the 35th anniversary of her RCA solo debut of the same name, recently reissued by BMG Heritage. Dolly's R&B influenced re-recording of the title track appears on the disc as a bonus. Alison Krauss' dreamily bluesy take on "9 to 5" easily distinguishes it from the pop-inflected original despite the similarities of their voices. Later she and Union Station collaborate by transatlantic e-mail with Shania Twain on a compelling, emotionally rich rendition of "Coat of Many Colors." So perfect is Shania's delivery, one wonders what the country megastar could do if she concentrated on country music. "Coat" demonstrates, as well as any composition, Parton's ability to find deeper meanings in simply told stories of day to day life.

Other standouts on the recording include Melissa Ethridge's growling, tortured version of "I Will Always Love You," Sinead O'Connor's version of 2002's "Dagger Through the Heart" and bass phenom Me'Shell N'Degeocello, who slows down the tempo and completely turns around Dolly's most pop oriented hit, "Two Doors Down," finding new, dark emotional depth in the song.

Just Because I'm A Woman becomes, in a way, Parton's songs without Dolly's persona. Taking a look from this perspective proves that she stands among the foremost lyricists of the past 35 years, absolutely worthy of mentioning in the same breath as Costello, Springsteen or Kostas.

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