Just Because I'm a Woman: Songs of Dolly Parton
Sugar Hill Records
T his sweet collection is for anyone who's ever argued that Dolly Parton is: a) one of the best pop and country songwriters out there; b) a better songwriter than singer; c) a self-styled genius. Producer Steve Buckingham invited a handful of singers to each pick a Dolly song for this tribute album, and the results are intriguing, with the exception of the first two tracks. Alison Krauss' interpretation of Parton's ode to the working woman, "9 to 5," is inexplicably bland and slow-footed, and Melissa Etheridge's breathy remake of "I Will Always Love You," is garbled and overdone. But click up to track three and the voices begin to gel with the fabulous tunes and lyrics. Norah Jones owns "The Grass is Blue," from Parton's album of the same name. "Jolene," as interpreted by young songstress Mindy Smith, is ethereal and haunting. Dolly's biggest fan, Emmylou Harris, honors her mentor with a pure-hearted rendition of "To Daddy," and Sinead O'Connor rips through a fine Parton tune, "Dagger Through the Heart." A well-earned tribute to an American classic. --Kathryn Eastburn
Dirty (Deluxe Edition, 2 CDs/4 LPs)
I really like Dirty (originally issued in 1992), though I've always thought it was too long and wished they'd put out two single LPs a year apart. But that's armchair coaching at its worst, and I'm glad to see Dirty(Deluxe Edition), even if it's twice as long now. It was a weird point in Sonic Youth's history, where they were getting commercial radio play and turning out arguably their most rockin' songs ("100%" in particular) in an attempt to keep up with tour mates like Mudhoney and Nirvana, and yet starting to stretch out into radio-hostile dronescapes ("On The Strip," the gorgeous "Creme Brulee").
The deluxe edition adds the flood of additional material they tacked onto singles around the time of Dirty's release, the best of which is the tremendous "Hendrix Necro," a B-side from the "100%" single. Much of the rest are semi-throwaways, the stuff B-sides are made for, though their cover of the New York Dolls' "Personality Crisis" is pretty fun if you weren't quick enough to fill that Sassy magazine quiz back in the day. As you might expect, there's a slew of unreleased and unexceptional demos -- nothing to write home about except as an illustration of their lyrics-as-afterthought working methods. As Byron Coley's liner notes point out, the bad thing about making a record for anyone doing improvisational music is that the record is a snapshot, a single view of an evolving entity. They chose a good moment, though. -- Chris Selvig