Yesterday, I was listening to numerous cover versions of soft-rock band Bread‘s classic ballad, “If.” Various versions passed through my ears–from Rachel Goswell to Joe Pass to Scott Walker and Olivia Newton-John. I thought that the most interesting version I’d hear would be the instrumental jazz fusion take by Herbie Mann. But I was wrong…
What I would soon discover was that weirdest and most interesting version of this song comes from Dolly Parton, the queen of campy country-pop. Taken from her 2002 album Halos & Horns, the song captures Dolly during her bluegrass comeback.
For the first verse, Parton utilizes some of the atmospherics of the original number, but…it’s just a little bit…trippy. Instead of guitars, she’s using banjos and strings, as well as a loop of her voice harmonizing. Underneath the surface, one can hear the distant ringing of banjos and guitars, but only just; Parton’s voice sounds like she’s been breathing helium for the past decade.
In the same way that Bread’s version was stunning for sounding otherworldly, Parton has accomplished the same sort of thing. By the second verse, she switches into uptempo banjo pickin’ and good-time bluegrass, but at the end, returns to the quietness of the first verse.
It’s a strange one, for sure; the first time I heard it, I was amazed at how bad it sounded. The second time I listened to it, I realized that I was wrong; it’s just so amazing that words really fail…including the previous 217.