By Barry Gilbert
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

November 8, 2005

Dolly Parton
"Those Were the Days"
Grade: B+

Everything about Dolly Parton is big, and nothing more so than her reach.

From traditional country and Top 40 success to movie stardom and being the boss of her own theme park, Parton has done everything on her own terms, and most of them successfully.

"Those Were the Days" arrives after four critically acclaimed, original bluegrass CDs on the Sugar Hill label. It is, however, a collection of Parton's favorite songs from the '60s and '70s. "We're not only from the '60s, we're in our 60s," Parton likes to crack from the stage on her current Vintage Tour, jumping the gun a bit -- she turns 60 in January.

That Parton carries the covers concept is a testament to her talent and her taste, which lets her down only on an overblown, choir-laden version of John Lennon's "Imagine." Elsewhere, the acoustic and bluegrass sounds of her most recent CDs are kept in the forefront.

Alas, the all-star cast she has assembled, including many of the original artists, is used mostly as flavoring. Singer Parton may have invited them, but producer Parton has buried them in the mix. You'd never know from simply listening that Parton gets harmony help from Mary Hopkin and mentor Porter Wagoner on the title song, Judy Collins on "Both Sides Now" or Yusuf (Cat Stevens) Islam on "Where Do the Children Play." And where is that trademark jangly, 12-string electric guitar ex-Byrd Roger McGuinn is supposed to be playing on "Turn, Turn, Turn"?

But those songs are nevertheless all first-rate, and Parton imbues these tunes and such overly familiar chestnuts as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" with emotional, convincing vocals. She is supported by a group of ace players, particularly David Talbot on banjo and Andy Hall on dobro.

Other highlights include two real duets, with Keith Urban on the Johnny Mathis hit "Twelfth of Never" and Joe Nichols on Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter." Plus, Tommy James shows up to sing and play guitar on his bubblegum hit "Crimson and Clover." It's big fun.

And it's true: Parton could sing the phone book and make it sound great.