Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Dolly Parton - The Grass Is Blue

Ten facts you probably don't know about Dolly Parton (but would learn if your lazy ass would just read her Wikipedia page):
  1. The fourth of twelve children, she helped raise some of her younger siblings as well as adopted the child of a deceased friend.
  2. She has been married to the same man for 45 years.
  3. She's done bluegrass covers of Collective Soul and Led Zeppelin songs.
  4. She wrote "I Will Always Love You," featured in the Whitney Houston / Kevin Costner movie The Bodyguard.
  5. The first cloned sheep was named after her.
  6. She's nicknamed "The Iron Butterfly" for her steely business mind.
  7. She's written 3,000 songs (not all recorded, obviously), starting at the age of 7.
  8. She plays at least 10 different instruments, including the piano, guitar, fiddle, and banjo.
  9. Dollywood, her theme park, attracts three million visitors to Parton's home town of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
  10. She has 25 number one singles and 41 top-10 country albums.
Why do I do this?  Because maybe, like me, you used to see Dolly Parton as a bubble-headed  blonde with big boobs.  She has been known to play up this misconception when convenient, or maybe just because it's fun.  But you underestimate Dolly at your peril: as a singer, songwriter, musician, woman, and human being, she is a force to be reckoned with.

So it's not too much of a surprise that in 1999, when she wanted to make a bluegrass album, she assembled an impeccable lineup: dobro legend Jerry Douglas, mandolin master Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs' banjo man Jimmy Mills, esteemed fiddler Stuart Duncan, amazing flatpicker Bryan Sutton, guest vocals from Alison Krauss, Claire Lynch, Rhonda Vincent, Patty Loveless ... it's an incredible group of talent.  The song choices are similarly super-powered; in addition to Parton's own compositions, there are tunes by Johnny Cash, Lester Flatt, Hazel Dickens, The Louvin Brothers, and (of all people) Billy Joel.

For all that talent, I put The Grass Is Blue in the "solid but not spectacular" category.  There aren't any real dud tracks here, but nothing standout either.  The musicianship on the album is predictably excellent, and Parton's powerful voice works well with the powerhouse band she's assembled, but there's nothing here I'm going to return to again and again.  It's just a tad over-produced, lacking some of the rough edges that appeal to me in roots music.

If you're a bluegrass fan, The Grass Is Blue is a solid album, full of top-notch performances.  If you're not a bluegrass fan, it might be a nice initiation into the genre; the boldness of the orchestration and the power of Parton's voice could appeal to those more familiar with rock music.  Whatever your bent, don't sell Dolly short - she's quite the lady.

Dolly Parton's official site

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