The intriguing thing about this feature debut is that when writer/director Tara Johns first came up the idea, she never thought that she would be able to secure the rights to Ms. Parton's music, or even be able to tell the country singer of her plans to make a movie wherein she would play an idolized maternal figure to a little Canadian girl.
Dolly Parton was reportedly so flattered upon hearing about The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom, that she not only gave permission to use her musical catalogue on the soundtrack, but also lent her voice to two narrative segments in the movie itself.
The soundtrack is a melancholy, albeit quite lovely compilation of Dolly Parton's music as performed by her and also various Canadian artists, and a moseying, road-tripesque score arranged by Canadian composer Luc Sicard.
The soundtrack opens with the clear, sparrow soprano voice of the “Queen of Country Music” herself in the 70s classic “Love is Like a Butterfly”. Since Tara Johns set her film in the 1970s, she could not have picked a better musician to model her film, and entire soundtrack on. This decade was the time when Dolly Parton was on an identity search of her own, trying to branch out into pop music.
The interspersing of Sicard's score is at once contrasting and complimentary to the vocal renditions of Parton's music. His pieces feature a blend of guitar, piano, banjo, ukulele, drums, bass, mandolin, lap steel, and many more instruments that are prominent in Parton's music (and some of which he plays himself.)
His pieces, in particular “Crossing Borders”, enhance the movie's journey element with their subtle touches of mandolin, guitar and banjo, paired sometimes with a driving, yet soft percussion that lends a gentle sense of urgency to the music.
The album also features covers of Dolly Parton's music by such Canadian artists as Martha Wainwright, Coral Egan, the Wailin' Jennys and Nelly Furtado. Wainwright's rendition of the heartwrenching “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” is particularly memorable because it speaks to the longing and confusion an adopted child like Elizabeth could have in terms of her roots.
Possibly the most stunning piece on the album is the Wailin' Jennys' cover of “Light of a Clear Blue Morning,” with sumptuous harmonies delivered the group, and homage paid to the sweet soprano range of the song's original singer. This piece is also the most hopeful of the lot, a stark and necessary contrast to the rest of the lovely, yet quite despondent album content.
This editor must admit at feeling a bit apprehensive upon hearing that a group of Canadian musicians would be covering Parton's music, but the end result is a wistful and emotional accompaniment to that particular time in life when one can see the end of childhood on the horizon.