A TENNESSEE GODDESS
Dolly Rebecca Parton has had one of the most enduring and multi-faceted careers in music history. She is beloved for her iconic status as a pop culture legend as well as for her unmatched singing and songwriting abilities.
Dolly has moved effortlessly from country music to pop music and back again. Her forays into television with The Porter Wagoner Show as well as hit films such as 9 To 5 and Steel Magnolias, established her ability to sail across not only musical genres but also separate and distinct forms of entertainment. She seemed to reveal even more of her outsize talents with every endeavor.
After nearly 60 albums, Dolly found herself in the same precarious situation as many other veteran country artists. She had been pushed aside and dropped from youth-obsessed country radio stations and their generic computer-generated playlists. Deciding that she was better off being true to herself rather than chasing after hits, she returned fully to her mountain roots and embraced the sound and history of bluegrass music. Critics and fans alike heralded a trio of releases on Sugar Hill Records in conjunction with Dolly’s own imprint, Blue Eye Records.
THE GRASS IS BLUE
Released in October of 1999, The Grass Is Blue is the first of three glorious bluegrass excursions. Dolly’s vocal performances are among the most energetic and soulful of her career and prove that this genre of music truly brings out the best in her considerable talents. Her choice of material is eclectic to say the least but that only serves to make the album that much more involving. You never quite know how she’ll interpret each song. Producer Steve Buckingham has stockpiled the band with world-class musicians including Stuart Duncan on fiddle and Bryan Sutton on guitar. Vocal harmonies are handled by none other than the divine Alison Krauss & Patty Loveless. To say that Dolly and her producer knew who to recruit for this record is a vast understatement. Despite, or perhaps because of, this illustrious company, Dolly still manages to shine brighter than anyone else.
“Travelin’ Prayer” (download)
While it may seem like a Billy Joel tune would be an odd choice for a bluegrass workout, it comes off incredibly well. This opening cut is turned into a rowdy, yearning plea for a higher power to watch over Dolly’s lover and keep him safe. “Travelin’ Prayer” shows Dolly’s ability to take another artist’s song, reinvent it and truly make it her own.
“Cash on the Barrelhead”
“Bluegrass Boogie” has rarely sounded this good. Dolly and company take on the Louvin Brothers classic and give it the remake treatment. Everything rollicks and rolls along with a comically sly wink to the listener.
“I Am Ready”
The album’s closing cut is an elegant acapella. Dolly’s angelic voice perfectly brings out all the emotion in this tear-jerking number. Sung as a musical prayer, it has a somber yet ultimately joyous quality. Written by Dolly’s sister Rachel Dennison, “I Am Ready” is drenched in mountain-grown gospel.
Appearing in January of 2001, the second of the three albums also celebrates the rich history and vibrancy of the bluegrass genre. Little Sparrow features an outstanding collection of upbeat, swinging tunes and quiet, reflective tales of heartbreak. A crackerjack band and Dolly’s soaring vocals tie everything together into a blissful bluegrass blend. This time around the sterling backup includes Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Chris Thile, Claire Lynch and Alison Krauss. It’s enough to make even the most devoted rock fan make a run for the hills of Kentucky.
A “story song” that’s as stirring as it is memorable. This track will take you back to the classic days of country music – even if you’re too young to remember them.
You might be the slightest bit embarrassed to admit that you love this spirited, sprightly tune but you’ll love it just the same. It’s a celebration of the joy and freedom that only true love can bring.
“Down From Dover” (download)
Beloved by fans for decades, this concert favorite and “lost classic” originally appeared on Dolly’s 1970 album The Fairest of Them All. It has been redone here in a wonderful new treatment that includes a previously unheard extra verse. This is the haunting tale of a young pregnant woman awaiting the promised return of the man who claimed to love her. The song builds quietly to an inevitable, tragic conclusion.
HALOS & HORNS
The success of The Grass Is Blue and Little Sparrow was followed in July of 2002 with a third release that’s only a notch below the quality of the first two.
Realizing she had caught white lightning in a bottle (twice), Dolly reunites with her illustrious musicians for another bluegrass throwdown. Similar to the two previous albums, this is a rich, lyrical project from it’s exuberant beginning to it’s glorious end. Dolly’s stirring vocals and the band’s powerful performance will return you yet again to the music of her southern heritage.
Originally recorded for Dolly’s 1976 album All I Can Do, it gets stripped-down and remade here. A new verse has been added to expand the scope of the song. Dolly is railing against people trying to tear her down. Scorned lovers, phony friends and tabloid journalists should all beware.
“I’m Gone” (download)
She’s SO over you. Dolly kindly asks that you take this relationship and shove it up your bass fiddle. This upbeat party track turns hilarious in a heartbeat as you learn exactly how to leave your man – but not before telling him exactly what you think of him.
This is easily the album’s most poignant and heartfelt selection. Dolly is on a quest for answers from her higher power with regard to the current state of the world today. She is joined by a gospel choir that brings the song right on home and back to church where it belongs. This is a rare track that actually got some much-deserved airplay on country music radio stations.
HELLO (AGAIN) DOLLY !
Late in her career, Dolly Parton managed to revitalize fans, critics and most of all herself. Three surprisingly excellent albums have proven that she is as talented and relevant as ever. She still has plenty of tricks up her rhinestone-encrusted sleeve. Taken separately or together these releases represent Dolly at her inspired best. If you’re a Dolly Parton fan (or one of the few who isn’t) these albums are a great way to experience a true singing and songwriting legend in all her well-deserved glory.
So don’t let the “train, train” leave the station without you.
The Grass Is Blue can be purchased at Amazon.
Little Sparrow can be purchased at Amazon.
Halos & Horns can be purchased at Amazon.