This is, in many ways, an unprecedented project both for James Patterson and Dolly Parton plus the entertainment and leisure industry as well. Patterson has teamed up with other celebrities to craft novel’s set in their chosen field before whilst Parton has written music for a brief like a film script. However, this is her first novel and unlike most novel’s, an accompanying album has been written by her. Although she sings each track, she is singing from the hearts of three of her characters from the novel.
On the face of it, this could be another Dolly Parton album, it makes sense as a stand alone body of work and is cohesive sonically. In some ways these songs are just designed to punctuate the novel but in true Dolly fashion each song tells it’s own story, there’s a lot of weight to the lyrics as we hear in ‘Woman Up and Take It Like A Man’. It features those lyrics we keep on reading throughout the novel – ‘Is it easy, no it ain’t, can I fix it, no I cain’t, but I sure ain’t gonna take it lying down.’ There is a grit and determination in the lyric that is both relatable and inspiring.
Surprisingly, much of the record feels upbeat and driven in spite of the darkness that looms over the thickening plot in the novel. Don’t underestimate the power of the production and arrangement in achieving this; the classic country sound with a shuffling drum beat and busy fiddle has the ability to lift hearts whilst of course there is an energy that is reflected within the lyrics.
The fieriness and resilience of the characters she is portraying shines through in Parton’s delivery, particularly on ‘Snakes in the Grass’. It’s a stand out on the record – her vocals are powerful – she sounds her very best here as she projects that chorus. The production is well thought through, the shaker bringing images of rattle snakes to mind whilst the backing vocals take it to a whole new level. It’s a foot stomping number that pushes forward and helps sustain the suspense that runs throughout the book. Similarly, ‘Firecracker’ really helps to bring to life the personality traits of our principal character AnnieLee Keyes.
Occasionally there is a more delicate song, more vulnerable. Again, it reflects the story and characters who, though you know it’s there, very rarely show their vulnerable side to the outside world. Those ballads tug on your heartstrings though, particularly the closing number ‘Love or Lust’ which sees her team up with Richard Dennison for a duet made all the more poignant by the string arrangement. It’s not the only duet on the record as ‘Demons’ opens with the sound of Ben Haggard’s voice and Joe Nichols joins her for ‘Lost and Found’.
In conclusion, this is a fantastic record that beautifully accompanies and enhances the characters and story told in the novel. Lyrically and musically it is a strong record from Parton who shows there is no end to her talents with this wonderful project.