Long live the 'Battle for Jolene'

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The devil works hard, but Jolin works harder. More than 50 years after red-headed hussy effortlessly seduced Dolly Parton's man, music's most infamous mistress is causing trouble again.

This time he's drawn the ire of Beyoncé, who rewrote the country hit with a twist on her new album Cowboy Carter. Here Beyoncé doesn't politely listen, but furiously warns Jolene to point her emerald-green eyes in another direction. Jolene's good to hear: in the age of social media, Queen Bey's aggressively loyal 'beyhive' tail can poke, prod and quarter her faster than a prairie fire with wind.

But as you might expect in a cultural environment where Nike's „sport update” of the St. George cross on the England football kit – the purple stripe – would cause collective convulsions, Beyoncé's rework caused a stir. While some reviews are genuinely encouraging, others are rooted in prejudice about who country music belongs to.

I am a creature of habit – some things we like so much that we leave them untouched. Like smell, music can evoke time and place. In iconic hymns, we know where the dramatic pauses are or where the high notes come. Any deviation in arrangement can be perceived as a distortion of a perfect memory.

But I'm also a huge fan of covers. Done right, they can surprise you (Metallica's “Nothing Else” featuring Miley Cyrus? Classy!) A few years ago, I stumbled upon Adele's Radio 1 Live Lounge performance of Cheryl Cole's “Promise This”. Underneath his somber undertone, the up-tempo pop song was almost unrecognizable. I cried. „wound” By Nine Inch Nails, the song, which stems from self-loathing and addiction, is haunting, but in Johnny Cash's version, his old age and ill-health really grab you.

Who wasn't moved when Luke Combs joined Chapman onstage at the Grammys, helping Tracy Chapman's „Fast Car” win a country music award decades after its release? Side by side, crooning in harmony, they proved that the distance between two singers of different ages, races and genders is much shorter than we think.

That to me is the beauty of covers, they live or die on the songwriter's ability to capture new nuances of the universal human condition. Barton excels at it – hence the royalty from her Songs like „I'll Always Love You.”” sang Whitney Houston, which helped make her a very rich woman.

Art is not static. A new slant on an old song is no different than looking at a familiar painting and discovering a new detail, or hearing Shakespeare's words come out of the mouth of the latest Othello. Context is important. Rapper Lil Nas X covered „Jolene,” and a gay man singing to a woman teased a new level of complexity. When the world learned that Jay-Z cheated on Beyonce with „Peggy with the Good Hair,” we remembered that even superstars aren't immune to infidelity.

While some may mistake both Barton's original and recent incarnation for her misguided anger at the other woman, I wonder if Dolly and Bey aren't in on the same joke. Mining their personal lives for inspiration and owning their stories is the driver of their success. They are not neglected women, they are shrewd traders.

Dolly has wholeheartedly given her blessing to Beyoncé's cover, introducing the song on the album while joking that it reminds her of someone she knows. „A hair of a different color,” he adds. „But it hurts just the same.” They won't be the last broken hearts. Jolene has yet to ride her last rodeo.

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What are your favorite covers? Please let me know.

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