Dolly Parton

Big Machine, 2023

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


When Dolly Parton was selected for induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, she initially declined the honor, stating she hadn’t earned the right to be in such an exclusive group. After finally accepting the induction, she stated she would have to release a rock album in order to justify her inclusion.

The thing is, if you look at Parton’s career, she doesn’t need to justify it. The song “9 To 5,” at its core, has more in common with rock and roll than it does country; similarly, “Here You Come Again” feels more like an AOR pop song you’d hear often on radio in the 1970s than as a country and western song. So—at least in this reviewer’s opinion—she already had more of a claim to inclusion than some of the nominees.

That said, Parton followed through with her promise of releasing a rock album with Rockstar, a 30-song extravaganza that sees her partnering with some of the genre’s biggest names. Did the gamble work? Well… yes and no.

The title track is a mess, solely because of how Parton’s vocals are overly distorted and hidden in the mix. The song itself is decent enough and had there been better production work on this one it might have been a more powerful track. Fortunately, Parton is able to redeem herself on the follow-up track (and lead-off single) “World On Fire,” even if there are still a few too many effects placed on her vocals at times.

The bulk of Rockstar ends up, as other reviewers have called it, akin to the greatest night of karaoke ever, with Parton recreating classic rock songs with the artists who initially performed them. This is not in and of itself a bad thing; often Parton shows she does indeed deserve to be held in the same echelon as established rock musicians. Duets with Sting (“Every Breath You Take”), John Fogerty (“Long As I Can See The Light”), Peter Frampton (“Baby, I Love Your Way”) and Miley Cyrus (“Wrecking Ball”) all serve as ample proof.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Even when Parton is left to her own devices, without having the services of another as-famous musician or singer, she proves she can knock the material out of the park. Her take on “Purple Rain” would have undoubtedly pleased Prince, had he lived to hear it. And while it’s still a “duet” of sorts, albeit without additional vocals, she takes “Stairway To Heaven,” complete with Lizzo on flute, and does an admirable job with material that, to most rock fans, is sacrosanct.

The originals tend to be the strongest arguments for Parton as a rock singer, even with the occasional weak moment or two. Kid Rock sounds creepy at the end of “Either/Or,” and regardless of what you think of the man otherwise, the collaboration otherwise works. Similarly, her duet with Steven Tyler is as natural of a pairing as ham with eggs; “I Want You Back” proves to be one of the strongest tracks on the disc. “Bygones,” her duet with Rob Halford, is one of the most powerful on the disc, but it would have worked better had Halford been given the range to let loose with his falsetto screech at least once. And as for “You’re No Good,” her new trio with Emmylou Harris and Sheryl Crow? Let’s be honest: Parton was born to sing that particular song, it’s such a natural fit.

Not all of the duets work as well as one would hope. “What Has Rock And Roll Ever Done For You” (co-written by and featuring Stevie Nicks) is not the female vocal one-two punch that it could have been, though this seems to be a weakness on the source material mostly. Likewise, her duet with Melissa Etheridge (“Tried To Rock And Roll Me”) and Elton John (“Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”) fail to hit the bullseye, and come close to missing the target completely. (The less said about “I Dreamed About Elvis,” the better… yeesh.)

Similarly, some of the covers have to be questioned – did we really need another take on “We Will Rock You / We Are The Champions”? (That said, her cover of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up” is surprisingly powerful… and I despise the original.)

None of this criticism, however, is meant to suggest that Parton fails in her attempt to move into the rock music world. Sure, there’s a twang in her vocals—hell, Ronnie Van Zant had that, and no one ever accused Lynyrd Skynyrd of being a country act. While there are times that her singing shows she’s on the wrong side of 70, overall her delivery remains powerful, and she remains respectful to the source material. In short, she pulls it off in that regard.

If anything, Rockstar is an album that should have come sooner in Parton’s career; it would have cemented the fact that Parton occasionally blurred the lines between country and rock throughout her career. Perhaps, had some of the covers been trimmed back and more focus had been placed on originals featuring only Parton’s vocals, this album would have been even stronger. As it is, it’s on the long side, but is relatively harmless fun.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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