In the midst of a career renaissance at the age of 58, Dolly Parton is very much alive and well. Her artistic resurgence began in 1999 with "The Grass Is Blue," the first of a trio of bluegrass albums which garnered some of the best reviews of her career and earned two Grammy Awards, her sixth and seventh.
Her legendary career, spanning nearly 40 years, is documented on this two-disc live set, "Live And Well." The first disc begins with recent bluegrass material: "Train, Train," "The Grass Is Blue," "Shine," "Little Sparrow," and the infectious toe-tapper "Marry Me;" along with two songs that helped establish her as a respected singer-songwriter in the early 1970's: the autobiographical "Coat Of Many Colors" and "My Tennessee Mountain Home."
The second disc also features bluegrass material such as "Dagger Through The Heart" and "Halos And Horns," title track of her 2002 album. Also included are her most famous songs: "Jolene," "9 To 5," "I Will Always Love You" and a medley of "Islands In The Stream," "Here You Come Again," "Why'd You Come In Here Lookin' Like That" and "Two Doors Down."
The album, recorded at the Dollywood Celebrity Theatre, captures the fun of a Parton concert as she seamlessly switches from bluegrass to country, to pop; adding autobiographical anecdotes between songs with an ample dose of her famous humor. She interacts with the audience with the confidence of a seasoned performer.
Backed by Gary Davis and his band the Blueniques, who worked on her Halos And Horns album, Parton's distinctive high soprano is in top form. One of the highlights is a rousing rendition of "Rocky Top," the unofficial state anthem of Tennessee, a song she was destined to sing. Also included is a new composition, "We Irish," which she wrote for her most recent British tour; but it has never been released in North America.
The only weakness of the collection is the safe song selection: "Jolene," "Coat Of Many Colors," "9 To 5" and "I Will Always Love You" were also on last year's tribute album and the 2002 greatest hits compilation "Ultimate Dolly." Of course she has to do these signatures in her concerts, but here they seem redundant. But that criticism is somewhat beside the point since live CDs, especially double albums, are pretty much geared towards established fan bases. To believers, she can do no wrong.
"Live And Well" marks the 40th anniversary of Parton's arrival in Nashville from the Smokey Mountains of East Tennessee determined to make a name for herself. By the mid-70's she was on a first-name basis with much of the world. It's also the 30th anniversary of the release of "Jolene," which established her as a country superstar, beyond her duets with mentor Porter Wagoner.
This is Parton's third live album and her first double CD. The concert is also being released as her first DVD, sold separately. Remarkably it's the sixth Parton product to hit stores in two years, following the tribute album in 2003 and continuing greatest hits packages from her hay-day label, RCA.
As a songwriter who has been covered by everyone from Tina Turner to Nana Mouskouri, and most famously by Whitney Houston; Parton could easily live off royalties. But she is not interested in retirement. "I'm not ready to be put out to pasture just yet," she says.
She's already working on her next studio album and is current touring more extensively than she has in years. She's appearing at Casino Rama in Orillia, Ontario Oct. 22-24, her first Canadian concerts in 15 years.
Writer: Dominic Darrah