Just Because I'm A Woman: Songs Of Dolly Parton Producer's Notes
By Steve Buckingham, Executive Producer
Dolly has often said that she considers herself first and foremost, a songwriter. It is true that she is one of the great singers, a phenomenal entertainer, an actress, a very accomplished businesswoman and a humanitarian… but she says her songwriting is the basis for it all… which leads us to this album.
In the fall of 2002 Lellie Capwell, the publicist at Vanguard Records, mentioned the idea of a Dolly "tribute" record. This followed the success of Dolly's three most recent albums on Sugar Hill, the sister label to Vanguard. The Grass is Blue, Little Sparrow, and Halos and Horns had brought Dolly the greatest reviews of her career, not to mention several Grammy Awards and numerous other accolades. I talked to Dolly about the idea and she was very flattered but, as is typical of her, wondered if anyone would be interested in participating! I began putting some ideas together and approached artists and their managers. Each person was allowed to choose the song they would record from Dolly's catalog. Many more artists wanted to be involved in this first volume but could not, due to their own recording and touring schedules. The formation of an all female cast just seemed to evolve naturally. Molly Nagel, a Sugar Hill employee, looked over a long list of song titles in Dolly's catalog and suggested "Just Because I'm a Woman" as the album title. Obviously it stuck.
I asked Dolly to consider recording the title track for this project. The song first appeared on Dolly's 1968 album, Just Because I'm A Woman. She was reluctant, saying she didn't want people to think she was paying tribute to herself! Happily, she finally agreed and recorded the song again… with a lyric that is very powerful today, much less in the late 1960s. Since Dolly had originally recorded it with a country feel, she wanted something different this time around. We settled on a classic R&B direction reminiscent of Muscle Shoals and Memphis…with some of the legendary musicians that defined the sound of that era.
Dolly was extremely flattered and humbled by the wide range of artists who wanted to record her songs. We are so appreciative to all the following:
Alison Krauss - "9 to 5"
As a teenager, Alison first worked with Dolly and me on an album entitled Eagle When She Flies. The first few times she was around Dolly, she would start to cry (which, incidentally, is not an unusual occurrence when others meet Dolly). A unique bond has developed through the years between Dolly and Alison with "Al" appearing on at least a half dozen of Dolly's albums. Dolly wrote "9 to 5" in 1980 for the now legendary movie and Alison's take on it is completely unique. A note of interest: Alison confided that, while in the 5th grade, she once sang "9 to 5" at the local American Legion.
Melissa Etheridge - "I Will Always Love You"
It takes courage, confidence and true artistry to take on a song that has been a hit three times for Dolly, not to mention Whitney Houston's mega-hit. The song was first released on Dolly's 1974 album, Jolene, and shows that a great lyric can transcend any genre. Melissa proves that an equally great artist can take a well-known song to a new level of emotion.
Norah Jones - "The Grass Is Blue"
I introduced Norah and Sinead O'Connor to Dolly when they all appeared on a television show in Dublin, Ireland in October, 2002. At that time Norah mentioned that Dolly's 1999 album, The Grass is Blue, was a favorite of hers. Still, we were surprised when she chose this song… but could not wait to hear what she would do with it. To say that everyone was impressed by the emotion and vibe Norah brought to this song would be an understatement! Dolly loved it.
Joan Osborne - "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind"
As anyone will attest who witnessed Joan singing "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" in the movie Standing in the Shadows of Motown, this woman has pipes! Everyone felt that she could bring something special to one of Dolly's songs. Joan did just that with this composition that Dolly recorded in 1982 on Heartbreak Express.
Shelby Lynne - "The Seeker"
Shelby fluctuated between three of Dolly's songs but settled on this one, which was first heard on the 1975 album, Dolly: The Seeker. Before Shelby recorded the final version, she played a guitar/vocal demo for me at her house. It was so good I thought that it could be the record. However, the eventual recording heard on this album shows that Shelby is just as talented as a producer as she is a singer and songwriter.
Mindy Smith - "Jolene"
As of this writing, Mindy is the only "unknown" on this album, but we think everyone will understand why she is included after hearing this cut. Dolly wrote and recorded "Jolene" for the album of the same name in 1974. We played a rough mix of Mindy's version for Dolly one night in the studio and she was blown away! It is extremely difficult to take a song as well known as "Jolene" and make it unique… especially for a new artist. Mindy has succeeded, employing a reharmonization of the chord structure and emotional reading of this great lyric.
Emmylou Harris - "To Daddy"
When Dolly was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1999, Emmy performed "To Daddy" at a private ceremony for the honorees… and again when Dolly was made a member of the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in New York in 2001. "To Daddy" was written in 1976 and, before Dolly could record it, Emmy heard the song and asked if she could cut it for her own album, Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town. Dolly and Emmy share a great friendship and mutual admiration… and anyone lucky enough to have seen them perform together knows the magic their voices create.
Shania Twain with Alison Krauss and Union Station - "Coat of Many Colors"
Shania was one of the first to commit to the project and chose this song which was the title track to Dolly's 1971 album. Dolly has often said that this is her favorite and most personal song of the many she has written. I called on our friend Alison Krauss and her great band, Union Station, to lay down the track for Shania. We then transferred the ProTools file to Mutt Lange in Switzerland for Shania to record her vocal. It was then sent back to us for Alison and Dan Tyminski to add harmony vocals. When I played a rough mix for Dolly in the studio, we asked her to add some additional harmony lines.
Kasey Chambers - "Little Sparrow"
To hear Kasey's Appalachian-like voice on one of Dolly's "mountain" songs (the title cut for her 2001 album), it is hard to comprehend that she is from Australia. However, since most of the Appalachian ballads had their origin in England, Scotland and Ireland, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine that some of this influence reached the former British colony of Australia. How else could one explain Kasey's obvious understanding of this music?
Sinéad O'Connor - "Dagger Through the Heart"
This is the most recent of Dolly's songs to appear on the project, coming from the 2002 album, Halos and Horns. Sinéad says she was drawn to the "anger of the lyric" and wanted, as she said, an "old time feel." Her vocal session in Dublin was amazing in its intensity and artistry. As a side note… Dolly did a video of her own version of "Dagger Through The Heart" and said she was inspired by Sinéad's 1990 video of "Nothing Compares 2 U." After Sinéad had chosen "Dagger Through the Heart" to record, she was floored to learn that Dolly had been influenced by her video.
Allison Moorer - "Light of a Clear Blue Morning"
Allison came to national prominence in 1998 with her song and recording of "A Soft Place to Fall." It was featured in the movie, Horse Whisperer, and nominated for an Academy Award. "Light of a Clear Blue Morning" was on Dolly's 1977 album, New Harvest- First Gathering, and Allison said she wanted to treat it "prayer-like." Her amazing voice and the retro, vinyl-sounding production bring new life to one of Dolly's timeless lyrics.
Me'Shell N'degéOcello - "Two Doors Down"
Dolly wrote and recorded "Two Doors Down" for her 1977 album, Here You Come Again. Me'Shell, the gifted musician, vocalist and songwriter, completely turned the song inside out… creating a totally different emotion. Dolly was thrilled with Me'Shell's arrangement since it carried her songwriting into such a different style of music.