Parton Playing 'Barbie': Schlock, but Also Awe

Dolly Parton salted the show with stories.
Dolly Parton salted the show with stories. (2006 Photo By Kevin Winter -- Getty Images)
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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dolly Parton the entertainer got more stage time than Dolly Parton the genius at the Patriot Center on Monday. But the lines between the two Partons were blurred often enough to please fans of either.

Parton, 62, is touring behind "Backwoods Barbie," her first CD in years that isn't dominated by rootsy country or bluegrass tunes. The best of the new came when she played a tin whistle and let her voice soar on the Chieftains-like "Only Dreamin'," a somber folk tune she said she wrote a cappella while alone in a New York hotel. Oh, those lucky bedbugs.

She spent much of the night telling stories, and usually put herself in the punch line. Parton made fun of her growing commercial irrelevance ("I'm just Hannah Montana's aunt to kids!"), her political ignorance ("I thought McCain was a John Wayne movie!") and all the kids in her family (her mama always "had one on her and one in her!").

Parton also devoted chunks of the show to sure-thing crowd-pleasers that aren't from her own songbook, leading her large band on one medley of vintage pop-gospel (which included "When the Saints Go Marching In") and another of old-time rock-and-roll ("Johnny B. Goode" and "Great Balls of Fire"). Reba McEntire is probably the only other country star who could get away with delivering something with as much extra cheese as Parton's "Eagle When She Flies."

But even when the show was at its schlockiest, Parton remained lovable. And she did occasionally flaunt her musical brilliance, faithfully rendering several of her timeless tear-jerking ("Coat of Many Colors," "I Will Always Love You") and country-pop singles ("9 to 5," "Here You Come Again").

She ended the night with "Jesus and Gravity," a new song that shows her belief in intelligent design. Then again, whenever Parton sang, the room seemed filled with proof of a higher power.

-- Dave McKenna

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