Unlikely Angel

The Songs of Dolly Parton

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Pub Date 16 Sep 2020 | Archive Date 30 Oct 2020

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Description

The creative process of a great American songwriter

Dolly Parton's success as a performer and pop culture phenomenon has overshadowed her achievements as a songwriter. But she sees herself as a songwriter first, and with good reason. Parton's compositions like "I Will Always Love You" and "Jolene" have become American standards with an impact far beyond country music.

Lydia R. Hamessley's expert analysis and Parton’s characteristically straightforward input inform this comprehensive look at the process, influences, and themes that have shaped the superstar's songwriting artistry. Hamessley reveals how Parton’s loving, hardscrabble childhood in the Smoky Mountains provided the musical language, rhythms, and memories of old-time music that resonate in so many of her songs. Hamessley further provides an understanding of how Parton combines her cultural and musical heritage with an artisan’s sense of craft and design to compose eloquent, painfully honest, and gripping songs about women's lives, poverty, heartbreak, inspiration, and love.

Filled with insights on hit songs and less familiar gems, Unlikely Angel covers the full arc of Dolly Parton's career and offers an unprecedented look at the creative force behind the image.


Lydia R. Hamessley is a professor of music at Hamilton College.

The creative process of a great American songwriter

Dolly Parton's success as a performer and pop culture phenomenon has overshadowed her achievements as a songwriter. But she sees herself as a...


Advance Praise

"I’m so excited about the book Unlikely Angel: The Songs of Dolly Parton spotlighting Dolly’s unmatched gift as a songwriter. Always honoring and forgiving, Dolly shines only the best light on circumstances that would’ve taken the rest of us out. She’s the hero who continues to encourage those who wanted change or wished to go back, bringing to life a part of the country and an existence most of us didn’t know or understand, all while making hard living seem like heaven on earth. Her magical combination of heart and genius is a most awe inspiring thing to witness, having a beauty and delivery like no other. Dolly’s tales of family, faith and romance have created an American treasure who has continued to enrapture the world for decades. What a gift for us to see life through hers."--Alison Krauss


“Lydia Hamessley invites us on a deep dive into the world of Dolly Parton as songwriter. The book weaves together insightful analyses of the musical forms, cultural roots, and meanings found in Parton’s vast catalog, with Parton’s own accounts of her music. Hamessley unveils these songs as the heart and substance of Parton’s contributions to popular culture, and will inspire every reader to take yet another listen.”--Jocelyn R. Neal, author of Country Music: A Cultural and Stylistic History

"I’m so excited about the book Unlikely Angel: The Songs of Dolly Parton spotlighting Dolly’s unmatched gift as a songwriter. Always honoring and forgiving, Dolly shines only the best light on...


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Featured Reviews

Unlikely Angel by Lydia Hamessley is an excellent book for any Dolly Parton fan.

The author goes through Ms. Parton’s extensive list of songs that she has produced and written and talks about her inspiration and thoughts that helped create each masterpiece. As a fan, I knew about some things, however I did learn quite a bit more.

Very impressed.

5/5 stars

Thank you NetGalley and University of Illinois Press for this ARC and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.

I am posting this review to my GR account immediately and will post it to my Amazon and B&N accounts upon publication.

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Excellent biography of Dolly Parton, highly recommended for serious music fans.

This is not your ordinary biography of a music legend. This book, by a musicologist, looks at Dolly Parton as the serious songwriter and musical genius that she is. It doesn't cover all the gossip and wild stories about Dolly's personal life. A small portion of the book covers her relationships with Carl Dean, Judy Ogle, and Porter Waggoner - but only as these relationships affected Dolly's songwriting career. Instead, this book takes a very deep dive into Dolly's Smoky Mountain musical roots and songwriting influences. If you care to, the author takes you verse by verse into many of Dolly's important songs, providing analysis while you listen to each song.

Dolly Parton cooperated with this book, providing the author with long answers to questions posed to her. Steve Buckingham, Dolly's longtime producer, also cooperated with the author.

I'm delighted to see a book devoted to taking a close look at Dolly Parton as the musical genius that she is.

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This books dives into Dolly Parton's discography. It is a perfect read for all fans of not just Dolly's music but music in general. Whether you are a songwriter or a Dolly's fan you will find this book very informative. It focuses on all of her career and her song and records, with some touches on Dolly's personal life and things that influenced and inspired her. I knew some things but just because I am familiar with her music. I also learned some stuff about this incredible woman. She really is a powerhouse and a legend. I would definitely recommend this book to people who are not all that much familiar with country music. It is a brilliant way to learn so much about it.
If you are a fan of Dolly, you will know most of these things already.

Thank you NetGalley for the copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Unlikely Angel is quite a unique book in that it isn't a musician biography- its a history of Dolly's songwriting. I'm a pretty big Dolly fan but I found there was a lot in this book that I didn't know about. It's a really fascinating look at the history of celtic and mountain song and strips back more of the 'cartoon character' of Dolly Parton and truly honours the incredible songwriter that she is.

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As a Dolly Parton fan, I enjoyed learning more about her songwriting. I learned several new things about her rough childhood and how it had an impact on her lyrics and music. A great book for Dolly fans!

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Sweet Dolly...I really enjoyed this book and I was able to shed the stress of todays world by reading her story! I learned a lot about Dolly's career ad her personal life~
I will be purchasing this book for my sister ad niece for they too are big Dolly fans!!

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Anyone who knows me well knows about my love of Dolly Parton. This was a great insight into the stories behind the songs, some I knew and some were surprising.

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Dolly Parton is a national treasure, and she must be recognized as such. People underestimate Dolly's genius, and this book helps by exploring her songwriting. What makes Dolly so special is that she's not just an entertainer: she's also savvy at business, a philantropist, and a prolific songwriter. I hope many read this to learn more about her prowess.

Many thanks to NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book. All thoughts are my own.

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I have been in love with Dolly for as long as I can remember. This book brings her to life in the best way. She is truly an American Icon and I loved learning about her life and music. If you are a fan of her Netflix show, and want more this book is it!!!

My favorite part was that the author takes you through Dolly’s songs verse by verse with a breakdown of what it means.



Thank you NetGalley and University of Illinois Press for this ARC and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.

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I love Dolly Parton for as long as I can remember. She is an icon. This book is a really great and fascinating read, that gives an insight to Dolly's songs. A must read for any fans.

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This book takes a detailed look at Dolly Parton's life choices. In a thoroughly researched tale, Lydia Hamessley lays out Parton's good will and her good works. All the good songs are mentioned and the book ties in the life behind the lyrics in a simple and straightforward way. If you enjoy all the minute influences of a superstar, you will enjoy this account.

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This is without doubt an amazing book. I am sure that even the biggest Dolly Parton fans will find something new in this book. This is not just a biography this is like a Dolly encyclopedia. Lydia R Hamessley must have spent a lot of time researching and writing this book and it should be on the bookshelf of any Dolly fan.

Not only will Dolly fans enjoy this but songwriters and other music professionals will also love this book. The songwriting process is covered in great detail and I must admit that some of that was way beyond my understanding giving a listening outline for some of her tracks and looking at tonic chords, etc.

Going to have to start a tip jar and save up for the hardback book to have on my bookshelf as this is a book I would use as a great musical reference for Dolly's work

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I love Dolly Parton and her music. This book talks about all her songs and what she has gone through. While reading this book, I realized i had already read the one she written herself. I love this one, because it talks about everything. If you look up Dolly Parton now you will see she has accomplished so much more. I am thankful that netgalley and the publishers let me read this in exchange for an honest review.

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This was a really fascinating book. I am not a huge fan of Dolly Parton, other than liking some of her biggest hits like “9 to 5”, “Here You Come Again”, and her duets with Kenny Rogers, so I enjoyed reading about her background but I really enjoyed diving deep into the meanings of her songs.

The book starts out with a synopsis of Dolly’s life and then a chapter by chapter deeper look into her songs. It is actually a very technical book and probably best suited for a musician, songwriter, or a hardcore Dolly Parton fan. Although, I am none of those and really enjoyed it. I especially liked the stories behind the songs “Coat of Many Colors”, “Jolene”, and “I Will Always Love You.”

My main takeaway from this book is that Dolly is an extremely talented songwriter. Thank you to Netgalley for the providing me an eARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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As if I didn't love Dolly before, I certainly do now. I love getting additional information on her extensive catalog of songs, a behind the scenes look.

Thank you Netgalley for allowing me to read this and give my honest opinion.

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Unlikely Angel: The Songs of Dolly Parton will be released October 12, 2020. Thanks to NetGalley for the Advanced Reader’s Copy.

When I was seven years old, my parents went to the movies. This was a huge deal. My parents didn’t go to movies. My six brothers and sisters and I did not go to the movies. So the event was burned into my memory. The movie they saw: 9 to 5, starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton. My mom couldn’t stop talking about the film to her friends and family on the phone, and that’s how Dolly Parton entered my life.

In the 1980’s, Dolly Parton had a variety show that I watched religiously. A year or two later she released Trio with Emmylou Harris and Linda Rondstadt, who I already loved as an artist. I wore out my cassette by the time Trio II was released a few years later. Just recently, I caught Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings series on Netflix and added Ultimate Dolly Parton to our music collection. I’ve always enjoyed Dolly’s self-deprecating sense of humor and appreciated her great charitable acts.

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If you are looking for a straight biography of Dolly Parton, Unlikely Angel isn’t it. To be sure, there’s plenty of biographical information on Dolly, and the author interviewed her subject via email and got many written responses which are included in the text. And there are tons of stories included. But this is the study of Dolly’s prolific songwriting career. And if you thought that Dolly was just a dolled-up singer and actress, this book dispels that myth pretty quickly.

“I’ve created this and played it up–the makeup, the whole persona. I’ve overexaggerated and made things worse. But I’ve had a good time doing it, and it all came from a serious place: a country girl’s idea of what glamour is. But this isn’t all I am. It’s not even most of what I am. Hopefully, people can see beneath the hair to know there’s a brain, beneath the boobs to know there’s a heart, and behind all the other stuff to know there’s some talent.”-Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton has written more than 3,000 songs and over 450 of them have been recorded since she first started recording in the late 1960’s. Hamessley contends that Dolly has three principles that define Dolly’s songwriting:

Dolly takes songwriting seriously
She thinks her songwriting is based on instincts
Dolly says her songwriting is “a God-given gift”
As stressed throughout the book, Dolly Parton wants to be seen as a songwriter first and foremost. All the other stuff, her singing, her acting, Dollywood, her fame, takes second place to the act that brought her all her success.

Unlikely Angel breaks down the songwriting process, the inspirations, starting with Dolly Parton’s impoverished upbringing in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, her years with Porter Wagner, and her solo career from country artist, to pop crossover artist, to bluegrass artist and beyond. Even with plenty of quotes from Dolly and other sources, this is quite the technical read if you’re not a fan of actually making music. You’ve really got to be a musician to understand some of the stuff presented.

I appreciated the stories behind Coat of Many Colors, Jolene, and I Will Always Love You, among many other songs the book dissects. But if you’re looking for a straight biography of Dolly, I’d stick to her 1994 autobiography.

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As a thank, you to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced readers copy of Lydia R. Hamessley’s “ Unlikely Angel” I write this review. When you think of Dolly Parton you may remember her hit singles such as Coat of many colors, Jolene or 9 to 5. These are great singles in my opinion as they show Dolly’s lyrical and musical versatility to draw in the listener into a crafted story from beginning to end. Hamessley brought an intersectional lens to expressing Dolly Parton’s songwriting by exploring the musical and cultural heritage she experienced since childhood. This book examined the many themes in Dolly’s songs that fans have identified with for over 50 years. Hamessley distinguishes the artist and the individual in a lyrical manner identifying Dolly Parton’s persona and exploring her creative process as a songwriter. The book's content was superb however the attention to the musical composition may interest some but if you do not have a musical background this may not interest you. However, you would want to read this book if you are a fan of Dolly’s work and want insight into the woman who wrote these wonderful songs. Overall I give this book four out of five stars on Goodreads.

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I absolutely loved this. It was such a focus on her as an artist and lyricist rather than a celebrity. This is the justice that Dolly deserves.

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Beyond just a discussion and analysis of her songwriting, 'Unlikely Angel' bears—as producer Steve Buckingham notes in the Foreward—Dolly Parton's personal stamp of approval. And like last year's NPR podcast series 'Dolly Parton's America,' it benefits enormously from interviews with Dolly exclusively for this project.

Highlights: the extensive examination of "sad-ass" songs from early in Dolly's career, particularly those that dealt with dying children and abandoned young women; a reminder that Dolly has re-recorded her own material throughout her career (the numerous versions of "Light of a Clear Blue Morning" is my favorite among them, and "Letter to God" is the surprise here), and; the parallels that develop when you've written literally thousands of songs (notably the mirrored melodies in "More Than I Can Say" from 1987 and "Unlikely Angel" in 1996).

It's not a biography (see Alanna Nash's still-unmatched 'Dolly' from 1978 for that) and it's also perhaps not for a casual reader. Too many repeated quotes and references to previous or upcoming chapters left me wishing this were structured more chronologically, based on when the songs were recorded. The theme structure is necessary, I understand, but my sense of déjà vu reading some direct quotes left me wondering if I'd read them in another book (and then, no, immediately after I would find reference to another reason for this same quote elsewhere in *this* book). Technical language like "modal chords" and "Harmonized with only I and bVIII," while understandably relevant, particularly coming from a university press in a book about songwriting, broke the otherwise easy flow of the narrative. Finally, as a Dolly fan, I would have appreciated direct reference (in the text) to the quotes that were taken exclusively for this book (versus those found elsewhere).

Notably absent is any reference to "Yellow Roses," a gorgeous #1 song from 1989 that Dolly has inexplicably refused to perform live in the years since.

Look for the 'Unlikely Angel' playlist on Spotify before you read this book to avoid looking these songs up separately, as I did. It's a superb complement that I discovered by accident a little too late in my reading.

A 4 star rating because it ultimately is a satisfying read from an unusual perspective. It should perfectly complement Dolly's own 'Songteller' coffee table book also due this fall.

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Even if you are not a fan of her music, this book is a very interesting account of a very interesting life. It’s well written and does not make Dolly out to be a superhero, which some biographies to. I feel like I got a balanced view of her life to date.

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A beautiful tale for a beautiful soul. Getting a glimpse into this legend like never before. We get to see behind the curtain and see what went into her beautiful songs that transcend time. Beautifully told, this story brings happiness and joy to those who read it.

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A sincere thank you to the publisher, author and Netgalley for providing me with an ebook copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest reviewl.

This is not my usual genre, I’m more into crime books and psychological ones too however I wanted to take the opportunity to read something from outside my norm. And I am glad I did!! Thank you for  opening up my mind to something totally different.

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Unlikely Angel
The Songs of Dolly Parton
by Lydia R. Hamessley
University of Illinois Press
You Are Auto-Approved
Biographies & Memoirs | Entertainment
Pub Date 12 Oct 2020 | Archive Date Not set

This is a great book that honors Dolly Parton and her songwriting talent! I have always loved Dolly Parton and her sweet spirit, but didn't really know much about her childhood and how very talented she is.
This will be a great addition to our library and I will recommend this book to others.

Thanks to NetGalley and University of Illinois Press for this ARC
5 star

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I loved this book so much. I am a huge Dolly Parton fan, and this made me fall in love with her music all over again. It also made me remember my grandmother fondly as she was a country music fan.. She would listen to Dolly Parton songs and find her joy and peace.

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Unlikely Angel is a difficult book to review because on one hand it delivers when it comes to the musicology of Dolly Parton’s music and is a must for all strong fans of the iconic country and western singer but if you are not quite on the bandwagon, this may leave you a little bit cold.

I am a huge admirer of Dolly and growing up on a farm in northern New York, Dolly Parton’s music is part of my music tapestry. I loved the insight and the musicology of the book and as I have a musical background, I found this very interesting. I loved how Hamessley was able to tear down each song and rebuild it to look at tone, context and what sounds like simple music is exactly very complex. Hamessley also took some of the best known songs of Dolly but she found lesser known gems that actually made me go back to listen to them as I was unfamiliar with some of the tunes.

The way that she lovingly puts this together, I found myself indulging in all things Dolly and put a special playlist together and I have now added multiple tracks to my favourites down to this book. The better known songs are explored and though with these as they are the soundtrack of my life, I learned some new titbits of information which helped me discover all over again.

The downfall of the book though is mainly with if you are not a Dolly fan or are not that familiar with her work, this may leave you a bit cold. We are given glimpses in to her life but to be honest, if you are fan and know her music, you have a pretty good insight anyway. This may not find new fans for her but it will make already fans greater admires of this dumb blonde hick who is far smarter and far more clever than anyone has ever given her credit for.

Dolly is an icon, gifted songwriter, and in some ways one of the most prolific song writers for the past fifty years and this book only goes and proves it. I for one, loved the book but I am pretty bias when it comes to Ms Parton, the true reigning queen of country music.

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Unlikely Angel: The Songs of Dolly Parton was such an enjoyable read. So often when reading about Dolly Parton you hear the familiar stories and anecdotes of her upbringing, endeavours in the world of philanthropy and her presence as a cultural icon – amidst all of the rumours and gossip...
However, Lydia Hamessley forgoes these popular threads and instead focuses on the creative processes and influences behind some of Dolly Parton’s most iconic songs.

Whereas many Dolly fans may be familiar with the inspirations and narratives behind ‘Coat of Many Colours’, 'Jolene' and ‘I Will Always Love You’, the author’s focus on songs such as ‘Light of a Clear Blue Morning’, ‘In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)’, ‘Down From Dover’ and ‘These Old Bones’ helps to shine a new light on some of the important, yet less mainstream songs within Dolly’s catalogue – I found ‘The Bridge’ to be a particularly haunting and resonant episode.

By breaking down Dolly’s vast repertoire of recordings into key themes such as love, tragedy, Appalachian heritage and mountain identity, Hamessley is able to cover a wide range of Dolly’s music whilst also drawing parallels across songs from different albums and decades.

Traversing Dolly’s musical journey from her early mountain songs, the Porter duets, pop-crossover years and a foray into bluegrass, helps to encompass the plethora of emotions and feelings Dolly’s storytelling instils into her listeners; there’s heartbreak, passion, betrayal, inspiration, girl power and spirituality – after all, everyone can always find something they can relate to into at least one of Dolly’s songs!

I particularly liked was how well-researched this book was. With a foreword by Steve Buckingham (one of Dolly’s producers and friends) as well as personal communications to the author from Dolly herself, each reference adds credence and reliability to this passion-project and celebration of the true mastery and craftsmanship that Dolly puts into her song writing.

I was hopeless at Music in school and often ended up being allocated the triangle or drum so that I could simply keep the beat whilst my friends came up with the different melodies and rhythms. Being written by a music professor, I was initially a little apprehensive that this book would be full of musical jargon which would go over the top of my very non-musical head! Whilst there are paragraphs dedicated to modes and rhythm styles which will appeal to musical scholars and country music historians, there was still plenty of discussion about the content and meaning behind the songs for me to enjoy. There's also the biographical details and tidbits of Dolly's life-story which complement the musical narratives to make this an immersive read.

As a huge Dolly Parton (and country music) fan, this was exactly the type of book I have been waiting to read to find out more about the songs of the Queen of Country. But the thing I loved the most about Unlikely Angel is the ardent way that Hamelessly goes beyond the hair, make-up and rhinestone-bedazzled ‘cartoon’ of Dolly Parton and takes a deep-dive into paying tribute to and showcasing the workings of an incredibly talented and gifted songwriter - which for most fans, is the real reason why we’ll always love her.

[Review to be published on my blog on 12.09.2020 and bookseller sites upon publication]

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If you're a fan of Dolly or even just music in general you'll love this book. This biography of Dolly Parton is well researched and interpreted. This book interprets Dolly Parton's genius songwriting abilities and dives deep into her mountainside influences with analyses for her lyrics. Dolly is a gem - that is for sure.

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The author has taken an artist so well known and shared something most dear to the artist...her songwriting. The quotes and stories are great. Since I am not a musician some of the musical jargon in dissecting songs is lost on me. However, the title is still enjoyable.

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This is a great account of Parton's songwriting process and made me release how unappreciated and influential she is as an artist. This is not a biography, but rather a musicologist's approach to analyzing the power and insight of an American icon.. It's a deep dive into a discography rich in narrative contradictions == equal parts sunshine and rainbows and gothic Appalachian tragedy. If you care about Dolly, you'll care about this book.

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A really neat, well-researched book about Dolly Parton and her extensive musical career. In depth topics explored include her songwriting and common themes in her song. Her personal life and song inspirations are covered as well and are accompanied by a number of pictures. This would be a great gift for a Dolly fan.

Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for providing this ARC.

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**I received and voluntarily read an e-ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.**

If you tell me you've made it this far in your life without hearing a song written by Dolly Parton, I'll tell you that you're lying through your teeth. While it's possible (though highly unlikely) you may never have heard her sing, Dolly Parton has touched so many musicians, artists, actors, poets, politicians, and so many more people through the years, it would be impossible to even try to guess the impact this amazing woman has had on the world.

And that's just through her music! If we were to add in her philanthropy, I doubt there's anyone in the United States that hasn't been touched in some way by the angel on earth that is Dolly Parton.

Now, onto the book. This book is incredibly well researched. What I liked most about it is that it isn't a standard biography- the author breaks down the musicality and lyrics of Dolly's songs and finds the some of the similarities and common themes that can be found throughout her music.

Many of the breakdowns of Dolly's music that I have read in the past have focused on some of her most well known songs: "Jolene", "I Will Always Love You", and so on. But Hamessley goes further and deeper into Dolly's discography than I've seen before.

While at times some of the terminology can be a little much for those who don't have a background in music, it's not something that drags you out of the book and forces you to pull out a dictionary or google.

Overall, iff you love Dolly, or really, if you love music in general, this book is a must read!

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If you’re not a Dolly fan yet, you will be after reading this book.

First and foremost this is an academic approach to the music, not necessarily a tribute to the songwriter. Even so, there's a substantial biography woven throughout the book as it examines not just the songs, but the artist as well in relation to her music and to the business side of the industry by delving into her values and motivating factors. As a result, the insightful commentary breathes new life into old favorites, allowing us to be inspired by her songs all over again.

The many illustrations and listening outlines remind us that the author is, first and foremost, a dedicated teacher. This may be a scholarly approach, but it is still approachable and relatable. The author allows new insights through the manner in which the chapters and examined songs are arranged.

The detailed examination of the music itself as an expressive language is sufficiently academic without being dry or boring. The author tackles not only the lyrics and how they were influenced by the artist’s experiences, but also how the melody for each song enhances the emotional impact of the message.

As much as Dolly can be defined by her music, this is a solid biography. Extensively annotated, this book serves as both a relaxing read and the springboard for a more intensive study.

Infused with many Dolly quotes and references to her books, this is a well-sourced tribute to an American icon known for her progressive feminism, her rock-solid faith, her expansive heart and generosity of spirit. The author refers to Dolly’s comment about her songs being simple enough to be understood and complex enough to be appreciated. That is a perfect way to describe this book – anyone can understand it and everyone will appreciate it. I voluntarily reviewed an ARC of this book.

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I received an advance reader copy of this book to read in exchange for an honest review via netgalley and the publishers.

Unlikely Angel is a beautiful book about Dolly Parton and her music and told more of a discography.
I expected this to be more of a biography of Dolly Parton but enjoyed it non the less.

Dolly fans will more than likely know most of the information in this book but I still recommend it as a read as it is well scripted and put together with information on her music and country music as a whole.

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This book takes as its premise that Dolly Parton is a serious and seriously talented songwriter - and attempts to dissect her career from a musicological ((and in places ethnomusicological) point of view. The fact that Hamessley feels the need to take quite so much time in her introduction justifying this approach says a lot about both the standing of country music, women who are songwriters and of course Dolly herself. Its a fascinating deep dive, giving equal importance to Dolly's themes and how she approaches them - to the musical traditions she operates in (and to a lesser degree the control she has had over it). Being able to read it in the time of streaming where every song mentioned is available is an absolute boon, Hamessley tries not to overly jargonise the more musicological passages but they certainly become clear when you hear the songs along with the text.

It is of course impossible to detach the music from the woman, and the book does end up being a loose biography of Dolly too, not least because the tradition of country and Appalachian music (as well as English/Irish folk ballads) are often based around personal and autobiographical songs. But Dolly has written thousands of songs and is an adept storyteller, you should never assume a song is about her unless it is explicitly said. Not least because there are too many songs where the protagonist commits suicide, or has still born children. There is also a fascinating breakdown of what she herself has said about her own songs over the years, the song Coat Of Many Colours which has changed in meaning and emphasis from its original recording, rerecording, live performances and even the film she based upon it.

Hamessley is obviously a fan as well as a musicologist and there is some straining at the seams here to try to justify Dolly's talents when a more dispassionate author would probably take it as read. That said the enthusiasm brought to the book is infectiousThe book also suffers a touch from having an academic bent in structure, she does do a lot of telling us what she is going to do, how she is going to do it, and what she has just done which is redolent of academic theses. And sometimes the simplicity of the songs overwhelms the narrative (Dolly will happily go back to the same melodies, and autoplagerise, and happily rerecord in different styles all of which may sit uncomfortably with a classic "rock history" ). But those a minor niggles, this is a really impressive piece of work which, with a Dolly playlist on the go, and perhaps a live recording to dip into, does justice to the incredible talent and person Dolly Parton is.

[Netgalley ARC]

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I've always been a fan of Dolly Parton. I mean, who isn't ? You don't have to be a fan of country music to love her personality. She's the female version of Willie Nelson in my opinion.

We all know Dolly's store of how she grew up poor and how down to earth she is. What we don't know is she's written like over 1000 songs (don't remember the exact number). Although this is not technically a biography, Hamessley researched previous books and also spent time with Dolly as well as her personal assistant. Unlikely Angel focuses on Dolly's songs, not her life. For instance, her most famous song, "I will always love you" is not a love song. She also had a hard time starting out . She even had to conform for a few years and play music she wasn't into in order to get known. She was willing to do whatever she had to do to sell albums and make enough money in order to play the music she wanted to play.

I've given away a few tied bits of things that stood out to me but there are many more. There isn't much about her personal life if that's what you're into but if you love her music, you will learn quite a bit and what makes her tick.

Thank you Netgalley for letting me read this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion .

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I have always had a keen interest in Dolly’s music, hence why this book attracted me. I’ve learnt so much from this book and listened to songs I’d never heard before. It is a very well written and researched book, with a wealth of interesting information. It is not a biography – if you’re looking for her life story then I suggest you find another title – this is part of the reason I enjoyed this book so much. It’s primarily about her songs, with input from Dolly herself on the story behind them, how successful they were and the how they shaped her career. Dolly’s input was obtained by a series of questions submitted to her by Hamessley, with much of the writing is her own words – you can even hear Dolly’s beautiful Appalachian dialect in your head as you read!

I would recommend this title to any music fans, but especially those who enjoy country music and/or have a love of all things Dolly!

Many thanks to University of Illinois Press and NetGalley for the free review copy. My review copy was electronic, and I expect a physical copy would make for a better reading experience as you would be able to fully enjoy the photographs throughout the book.

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Dolly Parton is not only beautiful, but an accomplished musician, singer, and songwriter. This book explores the story behind some of her songs and shows a side of Parton that few people actually know.

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Unlikely Angel provides an intense look at Dolly Patton’s life and writing style. I am a big Dolly fan and this book made me love her even more. The book is filled with tidbits of the backstory of her songs.

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In Unlikely Angel, Lydia R. Hamessley offers to scholars and fans alike a phenomenal exploration of what makes Dolly Parton a songwriter and musician unlike any other. Hamessley's choice to present Parton's songs not chronologically, but arranged by topic, offers to the reader the opportunity to explore the layered and sophisticated threads that are woven into Parton's music, those threads that make it uniquely "hers." This is an exhaustively researched, compulsively readable, wonderful addition to the Women Composers series.

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Unlikely Angel by Lydia Hamessley - musicologist and professor at Hamilton College - is an engaging catalogue of what is most important about Dolly Parton’s epic life: her songwriting.

I read this book with the feverish reverie of Dolly Parton on a songwriting retreat! This book is a feel-good read for music lovers everywhere. Unlikely Angel at times challenges those without music theory knowledge to dive into the author’s analysis of Dolly’s work. I encourage those not fully “versed” in reading music to take the author’s advice and play each referenced song through whatever musical streaming service you prefer - it makes the book that much more fulfilling! Regardless, take heart in knowing that there’s something in this book for you, as Dolly herself doesn’t read music but still has the joy of writing over 3,000 songs in her life thus far!

As my last note, and a personal one at that - I originally requested to review this book out of love and nostalgia for my late grandparents, who created a country music home for me since I was born. It was such a treat realizing that I was going to be reading my previous music professor’s new book! Lydia Hammesley taught one of my favorite classes (Music in American Film) at my Alma Mater in Central New York, and her writing in Unlikely Angel was like coming home! Carissima!

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This book tells the story’s behind some of Dolly Partons song, the process of her song writing and the challenges she has to overcome to become one of the greatest woman songwriters and performers in not only country but music world wide.

I liked this book. Looking at Dolly’s past and finding out so much about her songs and the way she can just put pen to paper and come up with so many songs is inspiring. I actually didn’t know most of what I read and found out that Dolly actually wrote a lot more than I realised. I think this book will be a great read for any Dolly fan or any fan that likes music history.

Thank you to University Of Illinois Press for this advanced copy.

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Unlikely Angel: The Songs of Dolly Parton is a beautiful book about Dolly Parton and her music.  Dolly fans will more than likely know most of the information in this book, but I found it an insightful look into her life.

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Unlikely Angel by Lydia Hamessley is a professional and comprehensive analysis of the songs of Dolly Parton with some background details which gives a valuable insight into the motivation and origins of her best known songs as well as some of the lesser-known ones too.

The book outlines the phases of Dolly’s career from starting off, through the Porter Wagner years (including her struggle to end their working relationship) to her more commercial records and back to her more traditional albums. The author also classifies and analyses the songs by themes examining the lyrics, the song style and the musical structure with listening guides for some of the most important songs.

This is an impressive publication for fans of all types of music not just Dolly Parton.

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If you are looking to read about Dolly Parton's personal life, childhood, business ventures, or various philanthropic endeavors you would do well to search out a more wide-scoped biography. If you want to read about Dolly as a feminist icon, you may want to read Sarah Smarsh's recently released She Come By It Natural. If you want to dive into her musical processes, then THIS is the book for you. Music professor Lydia R. Hamessley focuses on Parton's songs and "mountain music heritage," not her image. The massive compilation of research and endless details included in this book made me appreciate the amazing woman who is Dolly Parton all the more, like the facts that Parton has written over 3000 songs and over 450 have been recorded! A must read for any musician or Dolly fan!

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i really enjoyed reading this, it was great to kinda read about how Dolly Parton wrote her songs. It was an enjoyable read.

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Dolly Parton is an Unlikely Angel and a prolific songwriter. She has written literally thousands of songs. In fact, she vows, “I write everyday. I will do that till the day I die, whether anybody buys them or hears those songs till after I’m dead. I’m dead serious about my music.”

Unlikely Angel is an in-depth look into both the music itself and Dolly’s own songwriting process. As the book states, Dolly herself claims “her creativity is a ‘God-given gift’ her songwriting talent comes from God, and she is serious about her stewardship of that spiritual gift.” Emmylou Harris, another country queen who sang with Dolly on two albums, agrees, “I’ve never seen someone so spontaneously creative. ... With Dolly, it’s like the songs come out whole.”

I enjoyed the book’s short biography of Dolly in the beginning and the inside look into Dolly’s writing process. There is an intriguing look into Dolly’s jump into pop music and movies as just a way to fund her trip back into the country, bluegrass and mountain songs of her youth. Dolly truly is no “Dumb Blonde”.

The deep dive into her music made me realize why this book was published by the University of Illinois. The six Listening Outlines of Dolly’s songs plop me straight back to papers I wrote in my two semesters of Music Appreciation. To be honest, if my college had offered a class called Music Appreciation of Dolly, I would have used up another elective to take it.

If you are a songwriter or aspiring to be one, Unlikely Angel is a great tool to put in your music toolbox. In addition, fans of Dolly who want to know more about how she writes will be blown away by the details revealed here in this well-researched music biography. 4 stars!

Thanks to University of Illinois Press and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.

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This was a really good book about the life of Dolly Parton through her song writing. I have always known that Dolly was a song writer but I didn't realize how prolific her song writing is.

I didn't always understand what the author was explaining when she referenced the musical methods and concepts that Dolly uses but that did not take away from my enjoyment of this book.

I recommend this book for anyone that appreciates the vast scope of Dolly Parton's career and wants to learn more about her song writing and the stories that shaped her music.

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When you hear the name Dolly Parton, most think of her extensive music recordings and her outstanding sond=g writing skills. Lydia Hamessley has taken this first response and centered her biography of Dolly as a music icon around her songs and music. At some point, most of us have been affected by one of Dolly's songs, whether we knew it was hers or not. Unlikely Angel gives us the background of Dolly's life as it was lived at the time of the recording. It's a unique approach to a biography and would not work with a less talented entertainer. I've already shared/ recommended the book with everyone I know who listens to music, country or not.

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Dolly Parton is so much more than the parts of herself that she puts out there for public consumption. By all accounts, she is smart, savvy and has a heart of gold. She is also creative as all get out, writing songs at a crazy pace. At last count, she had penned over 3000 songs. She finds her inspiration in the people around her, people she knew in her childhood, songs she was raised on brought from other countries (usually called murder ballads) as well as stories of other people's hardships.

This book is a fascinating look behind the curtain, and I literally kept a list of songs I wanted to look up and listen to as I progressed through the book. It's difficult to make progress through a book when one is constantly sucked down the rabbit-hole of songs. I have been a fan of Dolly's from an early age, and this book has strengthened my admiration. She is a creative genius with a sharp eye for what make people tick, how their hearts beat and what motivates them.

Any fan of Dolly's will find this book to be enlightening, intriguing and a valuable addition to their library.

I was granted an ARC by the publisher and NetGalley, but I have every intention of buying a copy.
You should too!

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Much has been written about Dolly Parton, but “Unlikely Angel” takes readers on a journey to understand her creative process of songwriting. Despite her being known as an entertainer, she sees herself as a songwriter first, and with good reason.

The author, Lydia Hamessley, explains how Dolly’s childhood has shaped her ability to tell stories through music. And as a music expert and historian, Lydia educates the reader on Dolly’s life but also what it takes to create music that moves people. That said, I didn’t follow all of the music theory knowledge, but I appreciate the lyrics and podcast that accompanies the book.

I think this will be a great read for all lovers of music, not just those who grew up listening to country.

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If you're looking for a book that goes into detail of Dolly's life and how she got started this book is for you. It goes into detail about her journey and how she is a wonderful songwriter. Her accomplishments are extraordinary. She may be flashy on the outside but she's so much more than that image.

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Unlikely Angel
The Songs of Dolly Parton
by Lydia R. Hamessley
University of Illinois Press
Biographies & Memoirs | Entertainment
Pub Date 16 Sep 2020

I am reviewing a copy of Unlikely Angel through University of Illinois Press and Netgalley:


I’n 1964 Dolly Parton went to New York with her senior class to see the hit musical Hello, Dolly! Just three years later Dolly’s first solo album was released. It was titled Hello, I’m Dolly.


Dolly was born on January 19, 1946, in Sevier County, Tennessee. When Dolly was thirteen, Uncle Bill arranged for her to cut a demo record, “Puppy Love,” a rockabilly style, bubblegum pop tune Dolly had cowritten with him two years earlier.


Dolly Parton's success as a performer and pop culture phenomenon has overshadowed her achievements as a songwriter. But she sees herself as a songwriter first, and with good reason. Parton's compositions like "I Will Always Love You" and "Jolene" have become American standards with an impact far beyond country music.




From an early age Dolly Parton saw herself as a songwriter more than a performer. She writes her songs from experience, leaving for deep and meaningful lyrics, which is why many of her songs top the charts.


When Dolly left the mountains in 1964, she knew she was making an unusual move for an 18-year-old girl at that time: Dolly returns to hymns and scripture in her songs when events shake her faith, as she did in “Raven Dove” and “Hello God.” In these responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Dolly makes no direct references to the events of 9/11, unlike most popular and country songs about that day. With spiritual rather than patriotic lyrics, these songs are not on lists of 9/11 songs found online. Dolly’s songs encompass feelings of fear, frustration, and hope greater than just a response to a specific event.


In this book Lydia R. Hamessley’s expert of analysis of how Dolly Parton’s characteristically straightforward input inform this comprehensive look at the process, influences, and themes that have shaped the superstar's songwriting artistry. She talks about how Parton’s loving, hardscrabble childhood in the Smoky Mountains provided the musical language, rhythms, and memories of old-time music that resonate in so many of her songs.


I found that Unlikely Angel was a powerful story of how Dolly Parton’s music has touched many.


I give Unlikely Angel five out of five stars !


Happy Reading!

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If you're a fan of Dolly Parton, this book would be for you. Using some of her previously recorded songs, the author gives us a glimpse into Mrs. Parton's life from childhood all the way through her career. There were a lot of things I had no idea about her and I thought it was a very good and interesting read.

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I love Dolly Parton, she's probably my favorite celebrity ever because she seems so down to earth and seems like such a fun person. I loved this book and learning more about her.

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5 stars! I am a huge Dolly Parton fan and so is my daughter. We absolutely adored the stories behind the songs!

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If you don't like Dolly Parton there is something wrong with you. A truly beautiful giving woman who just happens to write and sing beautiful songs Highly recommend this book to not only Dolly Parton fans but also about-to-become Dolly Parton fans.

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This wasn't exactly what I thought it would be, as I was thinking it would be more of a biography! Even though it says it right in the title! I admire Dolly, and even though the only musical talent I have is pushing "play," this was an enjoyable read!

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This is a great little book if you want to find out more about Dolly Parton and her collection of songs! Be warned, this is not a biography but a deep look at her music, from the background of each song to an exploration of its musical features and how it fits both into Dolly’s and the wider pop/country canon. All the classics such as ‘9 to 5’, ‘Jolene’ and ‘Coat of Many Colors’ are there alongside some other deep cut tracks.

Having previously read Dolly’s new book ‘Song Teller’, this is a good accompaniment book as like I say it does delve deeper as is perhaps a bit more scholarly (I personally had to skip a few bits about the music as I am not that way inclined or educated, haha!). It’s so great to see Dolly appreciated and written about as the accomplished musician and songwriter she is, rather than just the (very cleverly created) image she portrays.

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I was a teen in the 1970s, when Miss Dolly was really gaining fame. In my social circle, such as it was, country music was not the first choice of listening on the car stereo. We ran to Rick Wakeman and Electric Light Orchestra and show tunes. (Drama fag here, if you're wondering.) As I, almost alone among my friends, had much-older sisters, I'd hear things overlooked by the pop-pups. Joni Mitchell wasn't big among them, but my sister gave me her old copy of Hejira when she moved, starting a love affair with Mitchell that's lasted to this very day. Then came the day she played "I Will Always Love You" and we laughed our snobby selves silly! "She sounds like a 45 played at 78," I commented, and got an approving laugh from the older audience. But that's a beautiful song, and if one is even a little bit susceptible to sentimental love poems, it's a gripping story. It's been remade and made into a hit in every decade since its first release in 1974.

Let's us have a come-to-Jesus about the parts of Miss Dolly you've been ignoring, were foolishly dismissive of (like me), or were unaware of. The lady acts and performs and sings. But she IS a songwriter. "I Will Always Love You", written to mark the end of her early and formative loving partnership with Porter Wagoner (man charted eighty-one singles in his life, betcha most people reading this blog never heard of him!), is in the American Songbook by virtue of it ubiquity and popularity with singers and audiences alike.

Author Lydia Hamessley is a musicologist, a scholar of Southern Appalachia's musical heritage. She is a thorough academic, and that is not bad thing because her subject here isn't the media star <b><U><I>Dolly Parton!!!</I></U></B> but the creative dynamo songwriter behind the entertainer. Many thousands of songs have come forth from Parton's pen. Many hundreds have been recorded by herself, and many other artists. (By the way, did y'all know Miss Dolly wrote a song called "Backwoods Barbie"?!
<blockquote>"Don't let these false eyelashes lead you to believe
That I'm as shallow as I look,
'cause I run true and deep"</blockquote>
This is the same smart businesswoman whose public persona uttered the deathless aperçu, "You'd be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap!" and variations thereon, in countless interviews.)

Oh, sorry. Anyway, Author Hamessley's text is academic in purpose and execution, so I won't lie and say it flowed past my eyes like limpid creek-water down a holler. Miss Dolly wrote an autobiography for you, if that's what you're looking for; I wasn't, and I asked for this book because I wanted to know about the creative, and also the businesswoman behind the persona.

And that is precisely what I got. Say hallelujah and bring the jubilee!

So, there's more, but I left it at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud: https://tinyurl.com/3f9a3jpn

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Dolly Parton is a remarkable and very private person. This book covers her music career and songwriting, as well as some of her personal life. Will appeal to readers who enjoy Americana, US history, music, and biography.

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Unlikely Angel is a beautiful book about the songs of Dolly Parton. Lydia R. Hamessley gets into the technical aspect of writing and creating songs. I grew up knowing Dolly as a pop culture icon. Later in my twenties, I learned that she is an incredibly accomplished songwriter. I love how Hamessley covers Dolly's influences and dives into her scrappy childhood full of bluegrass music.

This is a wonderful book for fans of Dolly Parton or anyone who would appreciate her craft. I highly recommend this book. I learned so much about Dolly and Country music!

Thank you to #Netgalley for the read! #LydiaRHamessley #UnlikelyAngel

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Dolly Parton has such an amazingly rich backstory which she's reflected in her songs for decades.

I truly enjoyed reading about her process, her influences, and her songwriting techniques, but it's the woman behind the creative genius that I truly appreciated learning about.

The pain, the heartache, the struggles as well as her incredibly positive spirit and determination to bring a bit of sunshine to the world in small ways made me a bit teary at times.

Strong work. Beautifully done.

I received an ARC for an honest review of this book.

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Thank you netgalley for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. As a Dolly fan, I feel like this is a must read for fellow Dolly fans. This book tells of her songs/discography as well as stories from her life that have inspired the songs. I didn't know of all the various songs she had penned for other artists. Obviously, I am in awe of her success and all the various businesses that she also is involved in. I would highlighly recommend this book to any country music/Dolly fan.

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I just love Dolly Parton and it was wonderful to get to know her and her songwriting through this book. Dolly Parton has so much talent and an interesting life with a lot of struggle. This book is perfect for fans and newcomers alike. I highly recommend it.

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I love love Dolly Parton, and any book that talks about her masterfully and gives insight on her as an artist is something I have to read. This book highlighted her songwriting and showed how she was excellent at taking the environment around her and creating songs reflective of the circumstance. Dolly is a masterful songwriter and singer, and I am so glad to have read this book and learned more about her.

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