Dolly Parton - Rockstar
Big Machine, 2023
I used to purchase copies of Pat Boone’s In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy (Hip-O, 1997) to give as gifts. It was a densely hideous effort on the part of Mr. Boone and his keepers to bring him to some level of modern significance outside of his starched, Puritan image. I did not give this as a gift, but rather a warning…a warning of what would happen if the “culture wars” were lost.
I was automatically preparing to do the same with Dolly Parton’s Rockstar. After all, the illegitimate Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inducted Parton into its friendly confines alongside Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, and The Rolling Stones. Parton is not a rock artist. That being said, I don’t know if that makes any difference. With Rockstar, Parton justifies her inclusion in this hall of fame, who should just change their name to something like “The Popular Music Hall Of Fame” and then go back and induct Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and about one million other artists.
One cannot turn up one’s nose at an artist who can sing the music of other artists with those same artists taking part in the recording. That is a popularity that cannot be ignored. “Every Breath You Take,” featuring Sting, “Open Arms,” featuring Steve Perry, and “Magic Man,” featuring Ann Wilson are only the beginning. Parton stumbles on the near-sublime sharing the microphone with John Fogerty on “Long As I Can See The Light.”
She alone takes Prince’s “Purple Rain” and turns it into the country song it always was meant to be. Parton tips her hat to Linda Ronstadt with Emmylou Harris playing Ronstadt’s proxy on “You’re No Good.” She sings that most BEATLES Beatles’ song, “Let It Be” with Sir Paul McCartney. Parton even has the balls to take on “Freebird” with the post-1977 Lynyrd Skynyrd. Do all of the songs work? Is the album fit to be heard? That is not the point.
Parton sounds elderly on this recording. That cannot be avoided. In the hands of less skilled or scrupulous producers, this can be a very bad thing. Many poorly conceived recordings have been marked by late-in-life efforts to cash in on a great name (in jazz, I will cite the macabre Indestructible! (Kayo Stereophonic, 2006) by a moribund Anita O’Day, as an example of something that was better left alone). Rockstar is not one of these. What we have here is a mature Dolly Parton having fun and giving every Babyboomer the gift of her interpretation of the Great Rock And Roll Songbook.