A splendid tribute to a towering career, this double-disc, 37-track overview follows Dolly Parton through a host of milestones: her first charted single (1967's ironic "Dumb Blonde" -- ironic because she clearly wasn't one); her early autobiographical RCA monuments ("Joshua," "My Tennessee Mountain Home," "Jolene," and "Coat of Many Colors"); her tepid flirtation with glossy pop productions ("Heartbreaker," "You're the Only One"); and her late-'80s/early-'90s return to a more contemporary country sound, as she finds her muscle again in self-penned numbers such as "Tennessee Homesick Blues" and "God Won't Get You" (both written for her movieRhinestone
). Although many of the selections are geared to chart hits, some tunes still jump out as surprising. As a template for Dolly's cover of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" on her 2002 Halos & Horns
album, consider the 1974 Porter Wagonerproduced, Parton-penned "We Used To," which cops the opening of "Stairway" and some of its melody and arrangement. Also worth a few more listens is the 1976 country-pop crossover hit "Light of a Clear Blue Morning," from Parton's first self-produced album, in which she meshes southern soul, gospel, and rock in a driving, visceral arrangement celebrating a triumph over hard times. Unfortunately, her wonderful duet recordings with Wagoner are represented only by the 1974 country chart-topper "Please Don't Stop Loving Me," and the Trio
(Parton with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris) is also limited to one haunting track, a cover of Phil Spector's "To Know Him Is to Love Him." This is hair-splitting, though: In a catalogue this deep and rich, two discs cannot say it all. But these two say a lot in a condensed space.