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Dolly Parton
LIVE AND WELL
(Sugar Hill)

Dollyís not just live and well but sassy, sexy, and still singiní like an angel at age 56 in this 2002 film of a concert at her own Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Her homage to drag queens and her homespun stories of her rural hillbilly upbringing are shtick, but itís clear that somewhere under the cornpone, wig, and sequins she means it all. And thatís never clearer than when sheís singing her own songs, from early-career classics like the bad-girl anthem "Jolene" and the autobiographical "Coat of Many Colors" to an "I Will Always Love You" that replaces Whitney Houstonís diva pyrotechnics with pure heart.

In recent years, itís been a joy to hear Parton step back from the pop world and embrace her mountain-music roots. Thatís compounded here by the accompaniment of her outfit the Blueniques, a pack of bluegrass virtuosos whose chops and harmony singing provide impeccable support for their boss at every turn ó even when she reworks a series of her charters like "Islands in the Stream" and "Here You Come Again" into 1950s doo-wop tunes. Parton kicks up grit for the up-tempo country staples "Train, Train" and "Rocky Top," but sheís really at her finest with a poignant, pins-and-needles ballad like her "Mountain Angel," a song so fraught with tragedy that it would turn maudlin in the grasp of most singers. The sheer purity of her tone alone sells numbers like this and marks her as one of Americaís greatest popular vocalists. Truly, this actress, amusement-business baroness, songwriter, and legend has a gift for "selling" anything she chooses.

BY TED DROZDOWSKI


Issue Date: December 10 - 16, 2004
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