Performing Arts

Adventurous spirit keeps Dolly Parton relevant across six decades as she debuts rock album 'Rockstar’


US singer Dolly Parton performs at the Lanxess Arena concert venue in Cologne, Germany. FILE PHOTO | AFP

There are few faces, and voices, in music that are as instantly recognisable around the world as that of Dolly Parton. Dolly, as she is universally known, is revered not just for the longevity of her career, but also for writing songs of life, love, heartbreak and tragedy, that have transcended generations.

Think of the classics that have been the soundtrack to our lives: Addy Was an Old Time Preacher Man, Coat of Many Colours, I Will Always Love You, Jolene, 9 to 5, Just Because I am a Woman, Eagle When She Flies and her duets with Kenny Rogers, notably Islands in The Stream.

But Dolly is always one for surprises and that adventurous spirit has kept her relevant across six decades. Although country music has been her signature sound, it is never too late for the 77-year-old to reinvent herself.

Friday marks a transition to the next phase of her extraordinary career with the global release of her first rock album, appropriately titled Rockstar.

In true Dolly Parton style, the arrival of this new album has been dramatic. It began with a Global First Listen Event on Wednesday this week, a film that was screened at cinemas worldwide allowing fans to preview the album along with never-before-seen footage and an exclusive interview with the legend.

The double album contains 30 songs, of which nine are original songs while 21 are cover versions of her favourite rock songs, some recorded as duets with the original singers.

As she writes on her official website, “I am very honoured and privileged to have worked with some of the greatest iconic singers and musicians of all time and to be able to sing all the iconic songs throughout the album was a joy beyond measure.”

Some of the iconic collaborators include Sting on a cover of Every Breath You Take, and Elton John for Don’t Let the sun Go Down on Me. Dolly is also joined by the two surviving members of the Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, for a rendition of the classic Let It Be and Peter Frampton joins her on a cover of his song Baby I Love Your Way.

There are other eye-watering combinations with a younger generation of musicians like her dynamic pairing with Miley Cyrus for a cover of the latter’s hit Wrecking Ball (which closes with an improvised lyric from I Will Always Love You).

Dolly says she almost wept in her car when she first heard the song. “I thought I have to have that song on my rock album and I have to have Miley sing it with me.”

Another big star of the current generation, Lizzo is a guest on a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven and Dolly collaborates with Pink and Brandi Carlile on her cover of the Rolling Stones classic (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.

Incidentally, it was Pink who announced to induct Dolly Parton into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2022 for her “songwriting talent, vocal and instrumental prowess, charisma and trademark style”. It was this honour, celebrating a career spanning six decades, 50 studio albums and nearly 3,000 songs, that acted as the inspiration to record Dolly’s first rock album

It does not take much for an artiste of Dolly’s stature to convince any musician to work with her but even by her lofty standards, this is quite an incredible lineup of special guests on the album.

There are a few notable songs that are not duets such as her cover of the mid-1980s hit by Prince Purple Rain and We Are the Champions by Queen.

This album is a big statement by one of the world’s most beloved singers that she is not averse to new territory, even though the switch is not entirely radical because the line between country and rock has increasingly been blurred in recent times.

In typical Dolly Parton style, she has several projects all at once. Just last month she released a new book Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones the second in a trilogy of coffee tables books. This contains a collection of photos showing her costumes from the 1960s to date, right from the clothes her mother stitched for her to the Hollywood designer robes and some of her wigs too.

Another chapter in the remarkable life of the 77-year-old who grew up in a single-room cabin as one of 12 children and through sheer hard work and determination, rare talent and charming authenticity, became a global icon.

The genre of music on the new album may be different from what her fanbase is accustomed to, but the honesty and warmth which she has carried into all her country songs remains present. Rockstar by Dolly Parton is released on Friday across digital platforms and on vinyl.

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