The Grass Is Blue

Dolly Parton

Sugar Hill / Blue Eye, 1999

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


When it comes to recording cover tunes, nobody does it better than Dolly Parton. In recent years she has dared to remake Collective Soul's “Shine” and even tackled "Stairway To Heaven." 

On her 1999 release The Grass Is Blue, there are even more familiar country songs and bluegrass standards that have been given the Dolly treatment.  However, it is the four songs that Dolly wrote herself that form the basis for this authentic sounding country album, which was produced by Steve Buckingham. The '90s couldn’t have ended on a sweeter note.

Dolly’s intention here was to go way back to her childhood, where bluegrass was the only music you could hear.  As the music she was brought up with, it really gets to the heart of who Parton is as a person.  By the end of this album, she has completely shed her skin and has laid herself bare for the Lord on the absolutely riveting a cappella closer “I Am Ready.”  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

All the songs that come before help to explain how she got to that point. She starts out with another musical prayer of sorts on the aptly titled “Travelin’ Prayer,” which was penned by Billy Joel (his version can be heard on Piano Man). Dolly then takes us on the journey that has been her life, with such bittersweet fare as “A Few Old Memories” and “I’m Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open.”

There is no shortage of emotion that can be found bleeding from every orifice of The Grass Is Blue. After all, life is filled with its share of heartache and disappointment. The most tragic and dark tunes are the most surprising ones of all, since they come from Dolly herself. There is barely a trace of the usual bubbly, upbeat and happy Dolly Parton we have all come to love and know over the years.

In wanting to show the world another side of herself, she was determined not to play it safe. As if tongue twisting, rapid-fire delivery of songs like “Will He Be Waiting For Me” wasn’t enough, her potent vocal style on wrenching cuts like “Steady As The Rain” and “Endless Stream Of Tears” are sure to turn on the waterworks for any listener. The heartbreaking title track cements the status of The Grass Is Blue as my favorite country album of all time.

Knowing she had a good thing on her hands, Dolly followed up The Grass Is Blue with two more impressive bluegrass albums, the Irish-flavored Little Sparrow and the colorful Halos & Horns. She would even get the attention of Sinead O’Connor, who recorded “Silver Dagger” for the Parton tribute album Just Because I’m A Woman

Just last year, the Kennedy Center made Dolly one of their annual honorees. Unfortunately, the decision was made to have “biggest fan” Jessica Simpson pay homage to Parton with her signature tune “9 To 5,” though it ended up as another onstage Simpson disaster and never made it further than the editing room floor. Maybe there is a God after all.

Rating: A

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© 2007 Michael R. Smith 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 / Blue Eye, and is used for informational purposes only.