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Music Review: Dolly Parton At The Echo Arena

John D Hodgkinson marvels as one of the last great goddesses of country comes to town

Written by . Published on September 1st 2011.

Music Review: Dolly Parton At The Echo Arena


YOU can forget all those trite jokes about Dolly Parton’s anatomy, those vaguely sexist and predictable wisecracks that bar-room sages all over the world have been relying on for so long.
Dolly explains she doesn’t mind people
covering her songs “even when they screw
them up. Whitney sure screwed this one up!”
They are rarely funny, in any case, Dolly is the mistress of self-deprecation: “People say to me, Dolly you always look so happy. I just tell them that’s the Botox!”  Top that one if you can, if you dare to . . .

She is not afraid to admit to the odd nip and tuck where necessary. She famously once said “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap!”

Whilst we are still recovering from the question from a young woman sitting behind us: “Does she wear wigs?”, the house lights dim.
There is a shrill shrieking from the audience reminiscent of female crowds at the hockey internationals they used to screen on Saturday afternoons. The stage lights shine, sweet a-capella harmonies emanate from behind the curtains. When they open the band strike up a short instrumental introduction of “Light of a Clear Blue Morning”.
Dolly Parton
Dolly appears to us in all her rhinestone glory and it is straight into “Walking on Sunshine”, covering every inch of the stage with a shuffling dance, pausing to interact with individual audience members. She is waving a white violin; one of several instruments she played, suitably festooned with more rhinestones. That Dolly Parton is an incredibly versatile musician is often overlooked. Tonight, as well as the fiddle, she plays electric and acoustic guitars, piano, auto harp, dulcimer, harmonica and banjo, as well as a tiny saxophone: “Cos I’m feeling saxy tonight!!”

The set is divided into sections as Dolly leads us through her life and career. She is an engaging raconteur and tells her story with a touching sentimentality that would seem trite in lesser hands, yet here is both compelling and told with a sweet honesty.

When she tells the story of, and sings own favourite song “Coat of Many Colours”, many hankies dab teary eyes. It is a hard heart that is not moved as she tells of her parents and 11 brothers and sisters.

Even here she can’t suppress her wicked sense of fun: “People say that our family must be Catholic, but hell no.... we were just fertile hillbillies!”

She really makes her audience feel like they are friends sitting around the fire in her family’s old shack in the Smokey Mountains. Finishing “Jolene” she quips that when she sees her old man snoring away is his chair, she feels like telling Jolene that she can have him now.

For the bluegrass part of the set, the musicians, superbly led by Kent Wells, gather around an old style microphone.  The medley contains a snatch of Duelling Banjos; Dolly turns to a banjo player “Hey... you ain’t bad... for a boy!”

There are wonderful covers of “River Deep Mountain High” and “Son of a Preacher Man” during which she turns songs so strongly associated with other singers into her own.

To end, there is the triple barrelled assault of “Here You Come Again”, “Islands in the Stream and the defiantly exuberant “Nine To Five”, before the encore “I Will Always Love You”. Dolly explains she doesn’t mind people covering her songs “even when they screw them up. Whitney sure screwed this one up!” Parton reclaims the song’s emotional intensity and longing.

A point off for a dodgy cover of “Stairway To Heaven” and a spoof rap that is fun but doesn’t quite work, but this was an otherwise perfect night.
The important thing about Dolly Parton is that despite her success, she has never betrayed her roots. For evidence of this, there is her Imaginary Library project which ensures that deprived young people have access to books to enable them to prepare them for an education that she never had.

It is such simplicity of thought and philanthropy that makes Dolly Parton what she is; a true star.


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Nic GoughSeptember 3rd 2011.

Good review John - keep up the good work.

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