Little Sparrow

Dolly Parton

Sugar Hill Records, 2001

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


There's been a lot written about Dolly Parton lately in the wake of her Grammy win a couple of weeks ago. A lot of people are saying Parton has gotten back to her roots, rewritten herself, become newly relevant in defiance of the current sanitized and suburbified face of country music.

That may be so, but I admit to having had some misgivings opening her newest CD, Little Sparrow. See, she covers at least one rock tune on it, and all I could think of was her execrable 1989 cover of REO Speedwagon's "Time For Me To Fly". (Sorry, Dolly, but it's true. That was awful). However, my concerns were misplaced and misguided. Parton has rediscovered her roots, and darned if this isn't a pretty good CD.

Little Sparrow is a collection of bluegrass, folk, Appalachian, roots country, and other songs that I'm convinced were chosen merely on the bases that Parton decided she liked 'em. (There are worse criteria for choosing material. There's nothing so painful as to hear an artist sing a song they don't much like.) Covers include The Louvin Brothers "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby", Cole Porter's "I Get A Kick Out Of You", Steve Young's "Seven Bridges Road" (most commonly remembered for the Eagles' version), and in a rather startling bluegrassification, Collective Soul's "Shine". True, the track list looks like an explosion at a public access radio station, but you know, it works, in some places startlingly well.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Of course, there's also the fact that Parton hasn't lost a lick on one of the most naturally gifted country voices in history. Expressive, conversational, and versatile, it still sounds like it did in the days of "Jolene" and "Coat Of Many Colors". Combine this with musicianship that never falls below good and in some places is downright joyous (including Alison Krauss and Chris Thile of Nickel Creek), and you've got a pretty darn good CD.

Some high points: the aforementioned "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby" and "Marry Me" are a quick shot of mountain espresso, cheery and invigorating. The tribute to the late Bill Monroe, "Bluer Pastures", is wonderful and poignant. The Celtic-tinged "Down From Dover" is heartbreaking in its simplicity, and maybe I'm a sentimental idiot, but I admit to having gotten a little sniffly over it. The traditional "In The Sweet By And By" is given a straight reading, and Parton (with the help of Celtic band Altan) nails it. And yes, before I keep you hanging any longer, Parton's version of "Shine" is both a new interpretation of a great rock song and very, very good in its own right.

There are a few miscues - I'm not sure what didn't work for me in "The Beautiful Lie" and "My Blue Tears", but they didn't grab me as hard as the rest of the CD. Occasionally Steve Buckingham's production is a little shallow and dry, but that's a minor problem at best.

I confess to not having heard Parton's Grammy-winning The Grass Is Blue. But if it's anywhere near the quality of Little Sparrow, then it's easy to see why it should have won. (I'm not sure why it did win, but I'm not used to the Grammies actually going to the best CD. It's a bit of a shock.) Parton herself says it best: "This is the music I would have been doing all along, if I could've made a living at it". Indeed. You may not get rich singing like this, Dolly, but you're enriching us and American music.

Rating: A-

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© 2001 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sugar Hill Records, and is used for informational purposes only.