Everybody knows about Jolene, the tempting vixen who could lure away Dolly Parton’s man. But what if Jolene didn’t want the jerk in the first place?
That’s the idea behind Esmé Patterson’s “Never Chase a Man,” which she wrote from the perspective of the auburn-haired title character.
“Listening to ‘Jolene,’ I was thinking that Dolly’s man, the one she’s begging Jolene not to steal, sounds like a sleazy, no-good fellow that doesn’t deserve the love of Dolly’s character,” Patterson tells CMT Edge. “In my response, Jolene is not interested in her man. She thinks he’s a creep, he keeps leaning in too close, and Jolene tries to tell Dolly’s character that she deserves better!”
For her upcoming EP, Woman to Woman, Patterson reimagines seven such characters in popular music. Along with Jolene, the singer wrote songs from the viewpoint of Alison, Caroline and Loretta — characters created by Elvis Costello, the Beach Boys and Townes Van Zandt, respectively. She also gives a voice to The Band’s “Evangeline,” the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and Leadbelly’s “Irene.”
You can pick out Patterson’s love for classic country music in the first few seconds of “Never Chase a Man” as the pedal steel weaves its way through the arrangement.
“Pedal steel is my all-time favorite instrument,” says Patterson, who is based in Denver and sings in the band Paper Bird. “I love the sound of it on classic records by Wanda Jackson, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, all that era of country music. To me, the sound of a pedal steel can feel really ethereal and spacey and, in the next moment, gritty and raw. I love the dynamic range of that instrument.”
But once the storyline unfolds, you might start to wonder if we were wrong about Jolene all along. After all, there’s no lyrical clue in the original “Jolene” that she’s even entertained such a notion.
“[Dolly’s character] spends so much of the tune saying how beautiful and magnetic Jolene is, how she can never compare, and I wanted to confront that archetype,” Patterson says. “Jolene responds, telling her from one woman to another to stand up for herself, that she doesn’t deserve to be treated that way, and she oughta love herself and let men chase her instead.”
Look for Esmé Patterson’s Woman to Woman on April 15. Check out the CMT Edge premiere of “Never Chase a Man.”