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Dumplin - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

by Kevin Schattenkirk
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Dec 4, 2018
Dumplin - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Aside from being a consummate star, Dolly Parton works hard. She is perhaps one of the most prolific artists of our time, recording in excess of 60 albums since her debut in 1967 (for the sake of comparison, only Willie Nelson has surpassed her, with 68 albums; Robert Pollard's solo and Guided by Voices work totals 49, and Neil Young's output comes to 40). With such a rich catalog to draw from, "Dumplin'" filmmakers initially approached Parton about licensing some of her songs for the soundtrack. Typical of Parton's generosity, she said yes, offered to write a theme song, and ended up completing six new songs for the soundtrack. Producer Linda Perry (former lead singer of '90s alt-rock band 4 Non-Blondes) co-wrote all six new offerings and oversaw the proceedings.

The film is an adaptation of Julie Murphy's best-selling novel of the same name. Debuting on Netflix on December 7th, the story follows Willowdean "Dumplin'" Dixon (played by Danielle Macdonald), a teenaged daughter of former beauty queen Rosie (Jennifer Aniston). The plus-sized Dumplin' decides to enter her small Texan town's pageant Miss Teen Bluebonnet — a pageant her mother had won. What started as a protest compels other contestants atypical of such pageantry to enter, Dumplin' challenges such contests and changes the lives of people in her hometown.

Songs from Parton's rich catalog are re-recorded here. Undoubtedly a highlight, this version of "Here You Come Again" is a duet with Willa Amai. Originally appearing on Parton's 1977 album of the same name, this iconic song is slowed, with piano and strings as the backdrop for Parton and Amai to highlight the poignancy in the lyrics: "Here you come again / Looking better than a body has a right to / And shaking me up so that all I really know is / Here you come again, and here I go." Quite frankly, I felt like I was hearing it for the first time.

Another highlight, "Two Doors Down," originally from Parton's 1977 album Here You Come Again," features Macy Gray and DOROTHY here on a bluesy country rocker with more than a hint of R&B and gospel. Elle King joins on "Holdin' On to You," a sassy country-rocker that first appeared on Parton's "New Harvest... First Gathering" album in 1977. Originally opening Parton's 1966 debut album, "Dumb Blonde" is straight-up country with lots of tasty pedal steel guitar, redone here with Miranda Lambert.

Then there's "Jolene (New String Version)" — do we need another version of this chestnut? Maybe not, but it's quite stunning here. Perry proposed an "Eleanor Rigby" style version of the song, framing Parton's vocal with a string arrangement. It's a poignant reimagination, losing none of the song's urgency. Only the album opener "Here I Am," performed with Sia, is a weak entry; Sia's voice isn't really suited to the R&B/country hybrid of the song.

The six new Parton/Perry co-writes are delightful. "Girl in the Movies" is a gorgeous acoustic guitar and strings-based ballad, a song of longing about wanting "to be the girl in the movies," for whom everything always works out. Parton's protagonist is going to take the risk and step out because she's "had enough of her dreams being shattered." Another ballad, "Red Shoes," is an acoustic guitar-based country ballad that works into a lush gospel-infused mid-section allowing Parton's expressive vocal to convey the yearning in her lyrics. Incidentally, Parton's description of this song as an update of her own "Coat of Many Colors" is astute.

Picking up the tempo with "Wonder Why," Parton and duet partner Mavis Staples exude pure joy on a bluesy acoustic country rocker with plenty of slide guitar. The theme of acceptance here isn't just pertinent to the film, but also universal: "Judge not lest we be judged, let heaven decide; Still we don't do it and I wonder why." The barn-burner "If We Don't" is performed here with Rhonda Vincent and Alison Krauss, another film song with a more universal message applicable to our contemporary world: "We could do a whole lot better if we walk this life together / Who will make a difference in this world if we don't?"

As with "Girl in the Movies" and "Red Shoes," Parton gets vulnerable again with "Who." A song about "looking in the mirror, not liking what I see, wishing I was surer but insecurities tell me I will never be the fairest of 'em all." Over a strummed acoustic guitar, Parton sings the album's more vulnerable and breathtaking line: "Who's going to want to see me naked, cherish me and give to me what I need the most?" The protagonist contends with self-inflicted body shaming, the fear of not being enough, and yet wanting desperately to connect physically and emotionally with a potential lover.

Finally, the mid-tempo country of "Push and Pull" features Jennifer Aniston and Danielle Macdonald. Both actresses were initially reluctant to contribute vocals to the soundtrack, but Parton insisted they join her. It's rather fitting, as the lyrics draw from the relationship between their characters: "So I push you away and then I pull you in / We say what we have to say and make up again; / We cut to the bone, and just as soon as it mends / We're back to push and pull and, oh, it never ends."

What is particularly striking is that the new material sits so well beside Parton's older songs — the intermingling of old and new could've been risky. It helps that the new songs are impressive in their quality and execution. Also, re-recording the older material here was astute, giving the album a cohesive sound. Taken on its own terms apart from the film, "Dumplin'" is a consistently fun and moving album from start to finish.

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
$9.89 (CD), $10.99 (digital)

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.

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