After a string of abysmal pop records on which her kittenish treatment of fatuous material turned her into a bad joke, Dolly Parton makes an impressive comeback with 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs. Parton’s power as a folk heroine derives from her native smartness and a radiant wholesomeness that reveals her Daisy Mae sexiness to be a good-humored ploy for attention. Deny the wit, however, and the joke curdles into a dumb-blond cliché.
A concept LP about working-people’s lives, 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs is eminently intelligent. Four Parton compositions, including the theme from her movie debut, show that Hollywood hasn’t warped her wide-eyed directness. “9 to 5,” a typical office-worker’s lament, is so bouncy that its complaints become self-assertions. In “Working Girl,” the artist name-drops Halston and Diane Von Furstenberg in one verse, then in the chorus quaintly compares working women to “the tallest of trees.” Only Parton could get away with such a sharp fusion of urbanity and folksiness.
Parton’s originals are balanced by an interesting mixture of folk and country chestnuts with working-class themes: “The House of the Rising Sun,” “Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos),” “Detroit City.” In contrast to those on her last solo LP, Dolly Dolly Dolly (on which the singer sounded like a windup toy), these cover versions are surprisingly intense — sweet, but never coy or mawkish. It’s nice to have Dolly Parton back from the trash bin unscathed.