Dolly Parton gave indications in recent years that she was ready to tone down her act. She's been making music even hard-core bluegrass lovers have swooned at while recording for Sugar Hill, a serious artists' label, and hasn't toured much.
But the other Dolly, the one with the flamboyance dial turned up to 11, took the Patriot Center stage on Sunday while her big band vamped the show tune "Hello, Dolly!" This was the Dolly of spiked heels, feather boas, cavernous cleavage, big wigs and rhinestones. The Dolly that launched a thousand drag queens.
This incarnation, and most of the set she played, can frustrate fans who want Parton to let on that she knows, as they do, what a genius and treasure she is, or those who wish she'd always take herself and her songs as seriously as they deserve. Typical was Parton's treatment of "Jolene." It's as fine a woman-to-woman song as has ever been sung, but Parton gave a one-verse version that took far less time than most of her jokes. Not that her jokes aren't good -- "If I pull a 'Janet Jackson' on you," Parton said while tugging on her revealing top, "I'll take out about three rows." But Parton's talking too often trumped her songs and her singing.
Parton's spare versions of recent bluegrass songs, including "The Grass Is Blue," and "Little Sparrow," were magical. But such serenity generally played second fiddle to camp. She brought out an intentionally bad Elvis imitator to duet with her on "I Will Always Love You," then told a tale about learning in the early 1970s that Presley was going to record the song. The recording never took place, Parton said, but only because she refused to submit to Col. Tom Parker's demand that she give up half the publishing rights. After sending the imitator offstage, Parton delivered another version of the song, and did the final chorus a capella. Oh, for a night of that.
-- Dave McKenna
"No one ever said to me / That I should write a symphony," sang the Delgados' Alun Woodward and Emma Pollock on Sunday at the Black Cat, harmonizing an a cappella passage. The Delgados may never have attempted a symphony, but the Scottish quartet is known for stately tempos and sweeping orchestral arrangements. The band's latest album, "Universal Audio," has a simpler sound, which makes its songs easier to take on the road. Even so, the foursome was supplemented by two keyboardists who also played violin, cello and other instruments.
The musicians' desire to move beyond customary rock-song formats was evident in the arrangements and the rhythms, which included the occasional waltz. Still, put the Delgados in a rock club and they sound a lot like a rock band. Woodward, Pollock and their cohorts were more robust than precise, with ragged guitar vamps and a crashing rhythm section often overpowering the subtler keyboard and string accents.
Ultimately, the Delgados relied on the same thing that sustains most musically inexact indie-rock bands: vocal melodies. The set emphasized material from "Universal Audio," which includes some of the group's catchiest tunes, including "Everybody Come Down," "Girls of Valour" and "Get Action!" (the song quoted above). The result wasn't novel, but it was almost as engaging as bassist Stewart Henderson's unprintable anecdotes about life on the road.
-- Mark Jenkins