By this point, it’s pretty clear that Dolly Parton is damn secure with who she is. She’d have to be: She’s been in the public eye for about 50 years, remarked on both for her music and her outlandishly glamorous looks. That kind of Dolly-tude means that Parton, especially in recent years, makes the record she wants, trends be damned. That attitude worked to her advantage on 2008’s Backwoods Barbie, a charming set of pick-me-ups like “Better Get To Livin’” and “Jesus & Gravity” that extolled the virtues of living life to the fullest no matter what. Those same ideas carry over to Parton’s latest, Better Day, but they lack Barbie’s genuine freshness.
Parton has said this new record is all about lifting people up in these hard times, and some songs do that, like the opener “In The Meantime,” which is about ignoring end-time prophesies, and the exceptionally charming “Country Is As Country Does,” where Parton goes on at length about being “quite content with who I am, and if you ain’t, well kiss my ham.” Gentle witticisms and fun-aunt life lessons are what Parton does best, but when she veers off into ballad or even (shudder) blues territory, watch out. “Holding Everything” pulls a chord progression directly from “I Will Always Love You” and fills it with schlocky lyrics about getting kissed and tasting sun and rain. The album’s title track, “Better Day,” is a blues track à la Randy Newman, without any of the implied irony. But even the weaker parts of Better Day are Dolly through and through, and if you don’t like it, you know what you can kiss.