Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Kat reviews new albums by Ann-Margret, Cher and Dolly Parton

Reposting of Kat's latest album review:

Kat's Korner: Seasoned entertainers (Dolly Parton, Ann-Margret and Cher)

Kat:  2023 saw many trends in music.  I guess the one we're left with is seasoned entertainers.  Dolly Parton just released a new album, before that Cher released one and before that you had Ann-Margret.  All three are singers, all three are actresses, all three began their careers in the sixties.

What are the results?

On ROCKSTAR, released last Friday, Dolly Parton tries to make a rock album.  Does she succeed?  Not really.  She makes a strong Dolly album but whether it's her singing or her arrangements, no, it's not a rock album.

It's not a bad album.  

At 30 tracks, it may be overly lengthy. It may not be -- it may grow on you with repeated listening -- the way the Rolling Stones' BIGGER BANG did with me.  Where it works best?  

"Wrecking Ball" performed with Miley Cyrus is one of the best tracks.  Maybe because Miley and Dolly have known each other for years (Dolly is Miley's god mother).  "What Has Rock and Roll Ever Done For You" works because Dolly and Stevie Nicks seem to have a mutual love and respect for one another.  Despite THE NEW YORK POST critic telling people this is a Fleetwood Mac song, it is not one.  Stevie has tried to get the Mac to record it and release it repeatedly.  Including during the recording of TANGO IN THE NIGHT.  Since I'm mentioning that album, let me note that MUSICIAN magazine wrote about how Stevie wanted the track on that album -- it was the same story where they detailed Lindsey Buckingham quitting the band -- and throwing Stevie against the hood of a car and choking her before Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were able to pull him off her.  Why mention it?  There's a push among revisionists to whine about Lindsey not being the band anymore and to blame Stevie.  Because Christine McVie talked about it and because it happened on stage, they can't dismiss Lindsey kicking Stevie repeatedly onstage during a concert.  But they're trying to use his epilepsy as an excuse for that.  Epilepsy, sorry fan bois, has many symptoms; however, beating women isn't one of them.

On her own, Dolly does an amazing version of Prince's "Purple Rain."  

It's right up there with Etta James' cover -- which is high praise.

And she's never off in her singing.  But some voices mix better than others.  Dolly and Miley work, Dolly and Stevie work, Dolly and Sting work ("Every Breath You Take"), Dolly and Debbie Harry work ("Heart of Glass"), and the voices on "You're No Good" should work.  The song made most famous by Linda Ronstadt finds Dolly reteaming with Emmylou Harris -- she and Harris and Ronstadt recorded many times together as a trio -- but Sheryl Crow is added to the mix and it doesn't work.  I think Sheryl and Dolly could have worked as a duo but as a trio, it just doesn't cut it.

The artists that work best are the ones who meet Dolly where she's at.  Simon Le Bon (of Duran Duran) is amazing effective singing Dolly's "My Blue Tears" with Parton, for example.  Ann Wilson bends and shades to meet Dolly on the cover of "Magic Man."  Steve Perry seems to forget that "Open Arms" is supposed to be a duet and a blending.

If you need a letter grade, I'd go with A.  Not A+.  But, again, repeated listening may result in a higher grade and it's a rich album that I plan to listen to many times over.  It's a great Dolly album, it's a great album for 2023.  There's speculation on how Dolly follows this up?  Some are saying a soul album or a pop album.  POPSTAR, SOULSTAR.    If she does another album of duets, she needs to include a song with her former RCA label mate Diana Ross.  Diana and Dolly's voices can blend and meet -- and as ROCKSTAR reminds (but shouldn't have to), that's how you get a good duet.

BORN TO BE WILD is Ann-Margret's first pop album to chart in the top 100 on the BILLBOARD album charts since her album with Al-Hirt, 1964's BEAUTY AND THE BEARD.  The thirteen track album finds Ann-Margret teamed with many artists -- including Joe Perry, Canned Heat's Harvey Mandel, the Oak Ridge Boys, the Yardbirds' Jim McCarty and Paul Shaffer.

Vocally, she works best with Mickey Gilley on "Splish-Splash."  In fact, I wish the whole album had been like that.  Ann-Margret was 'the female Elvis' to many.  It would have been great to her exploring some hard rocking fifties rock.  Imagine her laying down "Jail House Rock" or "Heartbreak Hotel."

As it is, she succeeds on "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" where she and Cliff Richard make vocal magic together, on "Rock Around The Clock," "The Great Pretender" and "Born To Be Wild." 

On this album, she sings a slew of songs from the fifties, sixties and seventies that often don't need to be sung.  For example?  In 1981, Diana Ross covered Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers' "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" and made it her own.  Ann-Margret doesn't do that.  She sings it nicely.  But does it mean anything to her?  I had the same question when listening to her version of  "Earth Angel" cover. It's pretty enough but are there any feelings behind it?  With her cover of  "Son Of A Preacher Man," I wondered, "Why did she even bother?"

The best and the worst song on the album are one and the same.  She covers "Teach Me Tonight."  Now she's 81, I'm not expecting vocal marvels.  Nor am I expecting her to sound like she did when she performed on her first album back in 1961.  But she finds a way to sing it that is engaging and passionate.  

"But you said it was her worst!"  It is.  Not because of her.  Because of her partner, Pat Boone.  Not a fan of Pat's but even I was surprised to hear him sounding like Pat Buttram's Mr. Haney on GREEN ACRES.  The final track is "Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree" which she does a fine job with.  As an album, I honestly give it a B-minus.  As an Ann-Margret album?  This may be one of her top three albums.  Fans will love it.

As I just noted, she concludes BORN TO BE WILD with a seasonal song.  Cher's latest album is all seasonal and is entitled CHRISTMAS.  Darlene Love joins her for the Phil Spector classic "Baby, Please Come Home" -- Darlene sang lead on the original version.  In 1967, Stevie Wonder recorded "What Christmas Means To Me" and he joins Cher on her cover of the song.  She also covers "Run Rudolph Run" and "Santa Baby." The rest of the songs are largely new or from the last two decades.  Largely?  She rescues the British sixties band The Zombies' "This Will Be Our Year."

Helping her out?  Besides Darlene and Stevie, Cyndi Lauper, Tyga and Michael Buble also join her.

The album's made it to number 32 on BILLBOARD's top 200 album sales chart and to number one on BILLBOARD's Christmas album chart.

How come?

Because it's a great album.  I'm not a fan of Christmas albums (see my "Cher and Christmas albums"). But this is a great album.


Cher doesn't care.  

She's made the album she wants and what didn't work didn't make the album.  It's her album and it's her vision.  And it works 100%.

Which is why CHRISTMAS is the album for everyone, while Dolly's ROCKSTAR is for fans of popular music and Ann-Margret's BORN TO BE WILD is for fans of Ann-Margret. 
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