An Aug. 25 review of a concert by Dolly Parton misidentified two instruments she played. On the song "Tennessee Mountain Home," she accompanied herself on an Appalachian dulcimer. During "Coat of Many Colors," she played an Autoharp. (Published 9/1/2005)
The gal has always been just a few rhinestones away from becoming more like Liberace than Loretta Lynn, and now Dolly Parton may finally be more campy than country.
With that platinum plumage, girlish giggle and a figure that could make Barbie feel bad about her body, the singer has always had to work hard to make sure her musicianship carries more weight than her bra straps. But on her Vintage Tour, which stopped at Constitution Hall on Tuesday night, the country legend exploited her role as the country boy's answer to Cher with single-minded focus.
In just the first 20 minutes of the concert, Parton, who appeared with Last Train Home, sang "Crimson and Clover" while strumming a turquoise Fender guitar, patted her bottom during "9 to 5" and, after spotting a drag queen dressed as her in the front row, serenaded the Dolly doppelganger with "Drag Queen," a little ditty sung to the tune of her 1974 hit "Jolene."
The usual Parton kitsch was ramped up in part because she's promoting a new album of '60s and '70s rock cover tunes titled "Those Were the Days." The disc, scheduled for October release, represents a complete creative switch from the pure country of her last few records: It gives Parton a chance to pay tribute to everyone from Janis Joplin to Bob Dylan and sing duets with artists such as Kris Kristofferson and Norah Jones. It also allows her to unload all of those hippie jokes she's been storing away.
"We've gone from taking acid to acid reflux," Parton said at one point. "Gone from Rolling Stones to kidney stones." Miss Dolly also pulled a Weird Al Yankovic with a short 5th Dimension-inspired song called "The Age Spots of Aquarius," and made a predictable crack about the chaos that followed an attempt to burn her bra in feminist protest long ago.
Although Parton's last attempt at covering popular songs, 1983's "The Great Pretender," wasn't exactly a success, that was before she started attracting a hipper, slightly younger audience with an insatiable appetite for schmaltz. The twangy, up-tempo remakes of oldies seem to be a concession to her newer devotees -- after all, in the '60s and '70s, Dolly's die-hard country fans were listening to Dolly, not Cat Stevens.
But after "Me and Bobby McGee," the Vegas lounge portion of the performance ended. Parton pulled up a stool and started singing about life back in Locust Ridge, Tenn., speaking directly to her bolo-tie- and cowboy-boot-wearing admirers. She gave her eight-piece band a break and handled her own accompaniment for "Tennessee Mountain Home," during which she played a glittering steel guitar, and "Coat of Many Colors," which had her getting down on a sparkling harpsichord. Parton dropped the strings and plucked only her vocal cords for the "plumb pitiful" "Little Sparrow," which showcased her gilded pipes in a way that someone else's second-rate pop tune never will.
After the sentimental Smoky Mountain segment, Parton switched moods, exuding busty pluck on both the 1977 Barry Mann-penned pop crossover hit "Here You Come Again" and "Marry Me." The singer again seemed to be appealing to a newfound fan base with a trio of songs expressing antiwar sentiment: the Byrds' "Turn, Turn, Turn," Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and John Lennon's "Imagine." But Parton backpedaled on the pacifism toward the end of the set, saying: "I wish we had peace, but the truth is, we have to do what we have to do."
When she ended with "Hello God," it became clear that no matter how many drag queens she flirts with or '60s folk songs she sings, Parton's red-state roots will always peek through.