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Music Reviews

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November 22, 1995

Something Special

Dolly PartonDolly Parton, Something Special (Columbia 1995) - With more than 60 albums behind her, Dolly Parton is one of Nashville's most enduring stars. Yet, Parton has never forgotten her humble upbringing and her love of kitsch. For the ten songs on Something Special, Dolly recorded the kind of album you'd expect from an old friend - accessible, country-oriented songs with a sweet delivery.

Something Special is the follow-up to Heart Songs, a double-live set recorded at Dollywood. In addition, Dolly also has written an autobiography called "Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business," a story that begins (literally) in a one-room shack in Locustridge, Tennessee. Says Dolly, "I've always been proud of my people. I've never been ashamed of my family, as poor as we are, or as bad as we might have looked. To do that would be to deny your own soul, your own heart."

Dolly's honesty and down-home sensibility have served her well through the years, and resulted in a legion of loyal fans, together with four Grammy awards. For the 34-minute Something Special, Dolly enlisted a tight studio band, starting with production assistance from Steve Buckingham, and featuring guest appearances from fiddle play Alison Krauss, guitarist Sonny Landreth, and singer Pam Tillis.

The new album features something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. In addition to spirited new tracks like "Something Special" and "Speakin' of the Devil," the disc also includes a remake of "Jolene," Dolly's number 1 single from 1973, and a comfortable duet with country star Vince Gill on "I Will Always Love You."

To be honest, I expected to be underwhelmed by this album. However, Dolly's so friendly and accessible that it's impossible not to like Something Special. Instead of a bloated, overproduced battleship, Something Special is a tight, well-honed production. If you haven't listed to Dolly in awhile, try Something Special.

Dead Reckoning Artists - On a recent trip to Dallas, I had the fortune to catch a gig showcasing the new Dead Reckonings label, an independent label owned by acclaimed session men (and women) Tammy Rogers, Harry Stinson, Kieran Kane (formerly half of the acclaimed country duo, The O'Kanes), and Kevin Welch.

Featuring a glorious country-based sound, the super-group that took the stage is easily the best unsigned act in America. While the playing area was crowded, the miking was perfect, and each voice and instrument was clear and distinct. If you were a record company executive and this band walked into your office and started playing, you'd sign them to a contract within 5 minutes. No kidding.

Kevin WelchNot entirely comfortable in the Nashville milieu, the foursome have formed their own record company and plan to release solo albums, starting with Kevin Welch, Life Down Here on Earth (Dead Reckoning/Rounder Records 1995).

Welch is now 39, and has been writing songs in Nashville for years for such artists as Waylon Jennings, Trisha Yearwood, and Ricky Skaggs. His first solo album was released in 1990, and was followed up by 1992's Western Brat.

Life Down Here on Earth features a folk and country sound, with a strong streak of the singer/songwriter. It was clear at the show that Welch has a loyal following; many fans knew the words to such songs as "Pushing Up Daisies," and the rocking "Kicking Back in Amsterdam."

Also with a solo disc is Tammy Rogers & Don Heffington, In The Red (Dead Reckoning/Rounder 1995). Tammy Rogers (now age 30) has a long musical pedigree. She played in her family's bluegrass band for years before being awarded a full college scholarship based on her fiddle playing.

Tammy's a hot studio player, and has recorded with such acts as Randy Travis, The Jayhawks, Marie McKee, and Patty Loveless. In fact, Tammy met percussionist Don Heffington (formerly of Lone Justice) while recording with Patty Lovelace in Nashville. With their related interests in folk and acoustic music, Don and Tammy soon found their way to the studio.

In the Red  In The Red features nine instrumentals based around Tammy's fiddle and mandolin playing, together with two vocal cuts (one from each). Highlights include "Flaco's Fairwell," which Tammy describes as "country & Eastern," and a lovely acoustic version of "Amazing Grace."

In the Red comes from the same school of semi-neurotic fiddle playing as Lisa Germano and Susan Voeltz. And I don't mean this as an insult. All three players are hugely talented; however, their instrument of choice is so plaintive that it often reveals emotional fissures.

The Dead Reckoning tour was intended to promote the new albums from Kevin and Tammy, and perfectly achieved its purpose. While the artists' solo albums are solid, their collective talents are even greater. Maybe the Dead Reckoning artists will record a group album; the results could be tremendous.

-- Randy Krbechek

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