Who’s that chirping her way through jaunty ’60s pop songs that sound more like the product of Phil Spector’s L.A. hit factory than Nashville’s Music Row? It’s Dolly Parton, and hearing that teenage songbird on Dolly’s first disc evolve into a mature singer/songwriter is one of the most unexpected pleasures of this four-CD set. As Dolly continues, those rare early cuts give way to the string of Porter Wagoner duets that brought her to the nation’s attention—but even those cuts are interesting mostly as rich context for what’s to come. Dozens upon dozens of classic tracks find one of America’s great talents discovering herself as a solo artist, then relentlessly pushing her abilities into new territory.
Dolly leaves off in 1993 with the end of her days as a radio hitmaker, a premature cutoff given the strength of her recent work. That’s a shame, but think of it as one of the hazards of attempting to sum up a career so bountiful and broad that four CDs can’t begin to contain it.