Dolly Parton – Letter to Heaven: Songs of Faith and Inspiration (Legacy, 2010)
Letter to Heaven returns to print 1971’s Golden Streets of Glory, Dolly Parton’s first full album of inspirational song. The seventeen tracks of this 45-minute collection include the album’s original ten and six bonuses cherry-picked from Parton’s albums and singles of the 1970s. As a treat for collectors, the original album session track “Would You Know Him (If You Saw Him) is released here for the first time. The latter is among Parton’s most compelling vocals in the set, and a real mystery as to how it was left off the original release. Parton wrote or co-wrote ten of the seventeen titles and puts her vocal stamp on standards (“I Believe”), country (“Wings of a Dove”), gospel (“How Great Thou Art”) and classic spirituals (“Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” here reworked as “Comin’ For to Carry Me Home”). The album’s originals are surprisingly generic songs of faith and praise, unsatisfying in comparison to the following year’s brilliant “Coat of Many Colors.”
The bonus tracks fare much better. Parton’s tribute to her grandfather, “Daddy Was an Old Time Preacher Man” is joined by memories of childhood church-going in “Sacred Memories.” Her appreciation of creation’s majesty, “God’s Coloring Book” is personal and intimate, and “Letter to Heaven” retains its power to evoke a lump in your throat forty years after it was recorded. Producer Bob Ferguson dials back his Nashville Sound to light arrangements of country, soul and gospel; the twang is still minimized, but neither the strings nor backing choruses overwhelm. RCA Legacy’s single-CD reissue includes recording details and liner note by Deborah Evans Price. Fans will be glad to have this back in print, but those new to the Parton catalog might check out other key album reissues first, such as Coat of Many Colors, Jolene, or My Tennessee Mountain Home.