As huge a star as Dolly Parton is, there’s something about the way she communicates that makes it seem like she’s sitting at our respective kitchen tables and offering us a helping hand or a listening ear. With Better Day, Dolly’s in full consoler mode. She offers up prayers and visions for better times, spreading comfort through her exquisite storytelling and incredible vocals. There’s a soft and warm side to every note of every song.
At the same time, there are cracks and some very human threads to be heard. The balminess never really leaves when she tosses out a foul lover (|Get Out and Stay Out"), but she’s as forceful and resolute as she needs to be.
As the follow-up to Backwoods Barbie, Better Day is Parton’s 41st solo recording and second out on her Dolly Records. It features entirely original material and there is certainly a thread of motivation and empathy running through each one.
Parton starts things up on a gospel note with the lively and boisterous “In the Meantime,” a track about living for today. She tells us that "the greatest days are the days we’re livin’ in" and decries living in the past steeped in worry. "We’re so consumed with fear of dyin’ that the joy of livin’ is lost," Parton sings. Amen to that one.
"Somebody’s Missing You," with backing vocals from Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss, glows with simple harmonies and elegant violin. Compellingly, the song, like all of the songs on Better Day, is delivered with sincerity and never feels forced or clichéd.
"Country Is as Country Does" is a traditional stomper of song, with Parton preaching to the choir. "Wherever I am then that’s where I belong," she sings before asserting that she’s “country to the bone.”
That consistency and passion for country is what makes Better Day a special record, as the basic values of compassion and helping one’s neighbour soak through every piece of music. Parton is the real deal, without question, and makes no apologies for her idiosyncrasies. She is downhome dazzling, oozing with confidence and style while maintaining esteem for "regular folk" around the world.
"Holding Everything" is a beautiful love song, sung as a duet between Parton and Kent Wells. The tune was originally penned for Randy Owen, who recorded for his One on One album. Parton and Wells manage a splendid thing here and the chorus is a sugary line that lovers should repeat daily.
Better Day is a stellar recording, showcasing a veteran artist in true command of her craft. Parton’s genius lies in her unpretentious, austere delivery and lyrical honesty. For an enriching record that doesn’t ring platitudes, this is a must-have.