Parton still gives life to her legend

by Alison Bonaguro

Special to the Tribune Published- May 10, 2008


No denying talent amid glitz, jokes

Every singer has a dream. Dolly Parton's is to drop dead in the middle of a song. "That way, y'all could say, 'I was with her the night she died'," Parton said at the end of Thursday night's nearly sold-out concert at the Chicago Theatre.

She'll have to wait on that dream, though. Parton, 62, was alive and well during her two-hour collection of hits, laughs, quips and somber reflections on growing up poor in the mountains of East Tennessee.

While she spent at least half her time onstage talking, her eight-man band gave Parton solid backing when she was singing. (Especially fiddle player Jimmy Mattingly, who is back with Parton after a long stint as Garth Brook's right-hand man.) But Parton pulled out some hard-to-play instruments herself. A dulcimer (bedazzled with rhinestones), grand piano (again with the rhinestones), harmonica and a tin whistle.

And that is part of the reason Parton endures. Yes, she wears wigs and too much makeup and has had plenty of nips and tucks. You can get caught up in the superficial instead of the treasures she has brought to the country genre. But Parton was raised on music, and it shows. Especially in bluesy numbers such as "The Lonesomes" and classics such as "Jolene," "Two Doors Down" and "Here You Come Again." Her attempts to rock things up a bit, with "Baby I'm Burning" and "White Limousine" took Parton too far out of her rightful place as a country icon. Her spiritual new single "Jesus & Gravity" suited her better because it sounded as if she were belting it out for her Pentecostal grandfather to hear.

When someone asked Parton what the smartest decision she had ever made was, she said it was hooking up with Miley Cyrus to play her Aunt Dolly on Disney Channel's "Hannah Montana."

With a career as legendary as hers, though, she's made plenty of wise moves. As she said on Thursday night, "There's a brain beneath this wig, and a heart between these boobs." Does that make her the "Backwoods Barbie" she sings about? Indeed.


Copyright 2008, Chicago Tribune

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