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Coat of Many Colors
Dolly Parton

RCA Victor
Released: 1971

Dolly PartonBeginning with two absolutely classic songs, one about a mother's love and the next about a mother's sexuality, and including country music's answers to "Triad" ("If I Lose My Mind") and "The Celebration of the Lizard" ("The Mystery of the Mystery"), side one is genius of a purity you never encounter in rock anymore. Overdisc is mere talent, except "She never Met a Man (She Didn't Like)," which is more. A-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

Bonus Reviews!

Country music's queen mother takes a trip down memory lane on this semi-autobiographical album, replete with ballads of heartbreak like the centerpiece title track, a triumphant tale sung with subtlety, but she also punctuates the set with moments of humor and life affirmations. Though physically one of the most deliciously artificial music stars ever, her writing and singing have a purity that says there's way more to Dolly than those wigs and breasts. * * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

Parton's starkest, most affecting album. The title track is about wearing rags but keeping your pride. The rest is more hard country: On "Traveling Man," Parton's mom runs off with the singer's boyfriend; on "If I Lose My Mind," her boyfriend has sex with another woman in front of her.

Coat of Many Colors was chosen as the 299th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.

- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.

Dolly Parton left her Appalachian mining town for Nashville in 1965. She had a recording contract within two weeks and a hit within two years. By 1970 she had had so many hits RCA released a Best Of album, but it was 1971's Coat Of Many Colors, an album of all-original material, that established her as one of country music's most original singers and songwriters.

Opening with the title track, Parton sings of rural poverty not as a tragic experience but as one that bonded the family in love -- her coat of rags was sewn by her mother with such deep feeling Dolly felt truly privileged. The album follows this theme, each song reflecting on lived experience and homespun wisdom. Parton's soprano voice breaks into a cracked vibrato when she is impassioned -- she is a very convincing singer -- and the Nashville session men behind her display a masterful touch, decorating every song with fluid, melodic picking.

Coat Of Many Colors is a model of economy, its ten songs clock in at less than 30 minutes, and the sentiments expressed helped reassure a rural, white, working-class America that found itself increasingly alienated by pop and rock music. The album cover, the kind of simple painting of a young girl popular prior to the photographic era, again reflects Parton's roots. If the public loved Dolly then Coat Of Many Colors also won around the critics who realized they were dealing with a seriously talented singer-songwriter.

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Parton has subsequently proved herself one of the smartest and most enduring individuals in showbiz. Coat Of Many Colors remains her masterpiece.

- Garth Cartwright, 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, 2005.

With "Coat of Many Colors," an autobiographical recollection of her hardscrabble girlhood, Dolly Parton made a huge leap. She'd been well known for years, as the duet partner of hit-maker Porter Wagoner. But this song -- and really the entire album -- cast her in a different light: It revealed the bubbly entertainer as a sharp-eyed country auteur, a gifted storyteller who, without dropping a beat, could set a vivid scene, quote relevant Scripture, and gossip a little bit, too.

Parton was the fourth of twelve children born in a one-room cabin in the east Tennessee foothills. When she was young, her mother sewed her a coat made from hand-me-down rags. She wore it to school, and as she recalls in the song, the kids made fun of her. Yet she never stopped being proud of her mother's resourcefulness: "I know we had no money, but I was rich as I could be/In my coat of many colors my mama made for me."

The song became Parton's signature. It reached the Top 10 on the country charts in 1971, and it paved the way for a series of pure country albums that are all worth hearing, especially when compared with the high-gloss country-pop crossover Parton pursued later in the '70s. The stylistic range is itself impressive: "Traveling Man," a steamy account of a young girl's flirtations with an older man, chugs along like a ripping Texas-roadhouse rocker, while "She Never Met a Man (She Didn't Like)" is a weepy hymnlike ballad. Parton wrote seven of the songs (Wagoner the other three), and though subsequent records yielded bigger hits (Jolene, from 1974), none quite match the poignant stories and fervent feeling Parton put into Coat.

- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.

Never mind the wigs and sequins; Parton could dazzle with nothing but hard-won tales of joy and heartbreak, sung in a voice as high and clear as Appalachian mountain air.

Coat of Many Colors was chosen as the 87th greatest album of all time by the editors of Entertainment Weekly in July 2013.

- Entertainment Weekly, 7/5/13.

Dolly Parton's most affecting album. The title track is about wearing rags but keeping your pride; on "Traveling Man," Parton's mom runs off with the singer's boyfriend; on "If I Lose My Mind," her boyfriend has sex with another woman in front of her.

Coat of Many Colors was chosen as the 257th greatest album of all time in a Rolling Stone magazine poll of artists, producers, critics and music industry figures in Oct. 2020.

- Rolling Stone, 10/20.

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