PERFORMING ARTS

Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics

Chronicle. Nov. 2020. 380p. ISBN 9781797205090. $50. MUSIC
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Cowritten by music journalist Oermann, this annotated collection of Parton’s song lyrics is highlighted by commentary from the artist and photographs from every stage of her career, from her childhood in the Tennessee mountains to the rhinestone-studded glamour of country-music stardom. Though Parton has been the subject of much biographical, critical, and musicological commentary of late, this one stands out for its keen insights from the songwriter herself. Indeed, Songteller is an appropriate title, for Parton is as much a storyteller as she is a musician, and the title has a dual meaning: Parton’s songs tell stories, and in this book she tells stories about her songs. Though not a biography in the strictest sense—1994’s My Life and Other Unfinished Business is that, though obviously dated—the book is organized biographically as well as thematically, taking the reader from Parton’s earliest attempts at lyric-writing to her response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout, it’s clear that Parton understands both the sheer power of music and her own considerable gifts as a songwriter, performer, storyteller, and collaborator. And the work is just plain heartening. One could do worse to cue up a Spotify playlist and curl up in a comfortable chair with a mug of tea and this book.
VERDICT Heartwarming and insightful in equal measure. For Parton fans.

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