In the mid-90s, RCA finally began treating the back catalogs of its legendary artist with respect, with their Essential series, which included two volumes focusing on Dolly Parton's work during her 19-year stint with the label.
This new two-disc Essential collection from Sony BMG replaces the earlier RCA volumes. When RCA's parent company BMG merged with Sony, and the bulk of Dolly's catalog was controlled by one company, many fans, myself included, were excited at the prospect of finally getting an anthology that included hits from her Monument days through her 1987-1995 association with Columbia Records. It was inevitable that the RCA material would dominate, given Parton's long association with that label (1967-1986); however it is disappointing that her Columbia work remains under-anthologized. Only two of her Columbia hits - 1989's "Why'd You Come In Here Looking Like That" and her 1991 duet with Ricky Van Shelton, "Rockin' Years" are represented here. At the very least, "Yellow Roses", "He's Alive", "Eagle When She Flies", and "Silver And Gold", deserved inclusion in this collection. Instead, we get a single track from the Trio albums -- "To Know Him Is To Love Him" with Emmylou Harris on lead vocals, and a duet with Porter Wagoner, "Please Don't Stop Loving Me", which, though excellent, probably should have been excluded in favor of some of Dolly's solo work.
On the bright side, this collection does include a pair of brilliant early tracks that failed to catch on commercially at the time. It's nice to see that "My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy" and "Dumb Blonde", her first (modest) hit for Monument Records, each earned a slot here. I'd have preferred more selections from these early years, instead of some of the later crossover hits which are widely available on other collections, but at least this was a step in the right direction.
The remaining tracks on this collection, are by and large, a rehash of the earlier RCA Essential volumes. It's impossible to do justice to such a long and successful career as Dolly Parton's with a two-disc set. It's also impossible to please everyone - I'd have made some different choices if I were the one compiling this collection - but overall, it is a good introduction to Dolly's work and the best retrospective of her career currently available, despite its shortcomings.
Diehard Parton fans might consider purchasing "The Tour Collection", a 4 CD boxed set recently released by Sony BMG in the UK that contains a handful of Dolly's hits, along with a generous sampling of rare tracks, several of which are making their first appearance on CD. There is some duplication with the Essential discs, but the two collections combined will provide a comprehensive look at this amazing singer-songwriter's entire career.