At some point, after a successful career and a comeback or two, certain singer/writers like Dolly Parton become artists above and beyond criticism. If her past work in pop and country hadn't accomplished this for her, her recent string of roots albums on Sugar Hill certified her status as a senior statesperson of American music. Interestingly, reaching this exalted position also has a retroactive effect, bestowing the word "classic" on one's earlier work. Coat of Many Colors was first issued in 1971, and the now famous title cut has remained one of Parton's best love songs. The album's arrangements are all over the map, and it sounds, unlike 1973's My Tennessee Mountain Home, as though she had recorded a handful of singles and then added filler. Parton's voice and the subject matter of her mostly self-penned songs defined her as a country singer, in spite of dissimilar arrangements. While none of the material is bad, little holds up to "Coat of Many Colors" and the rocking "Traveling Man," the first and second cuts on the album. The bonus material adds little to the package save the very special last cut, an acoustic demo of "My Blue Tears" (the album cut was a hit -- number 17 -- in 1971). This cut brings to mind the adage about demos sometimes being more interesting than the actual release. With only Parton and her acoustic guitar, the song has an organic, natural feel that roots fans would call authentic. Arguably, the cut has more authenticity than her later recordings on Sugar Hill, and it is frightening to imagine that recordings like this, deemed too basic for public consumption, remain locked in the vault. Not only is the demo of "My Blue Tears" more interesting than the album track, it leads one to believe that the entire album would have been better off without Nashville touches like cheesy background singers. Coat of Many Colors is still a good snapshot of Parton as her career really started to pick up steam. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.