Bigger-than-life makeup, costumes and cosmetic surgery may have established Dolly Parton as a camp icon. But unlike Cher and Diana Ross, Parton never puts on a show that values glitter over content. Kids who know her only from Hannah Montana appearances may not realize that. Anyone who’s seen the multi-instrumentalist perform knows that, in addition to being a prolific songwriter, Parton is also a remarkable vocal interpreter who applies sincerity to songs that might be maudlin, melodramatic or corny coming from a less gifted artist.
Her latest album, Better Day, makes less of a statement than her prior millennial recordings, a series of stellar traditional bluegrass records followed by 2008’s shamelessly pop-country Backwoods Barbie. It does redeem four songs from her commercially disappointing 9 to 5 Broadway musical.
But don’t expect Dolly to stick to new material. Her gigs still reflect the audience-pleasing training she received on the Porter Wagoner Show in the ’60s. Parton transforms into a little Smoky Mountain girl; she channels the sparkly peacock she became in the ’70s; she’ll probably joke about all the money Whitney Houston made her by covering “I Will Always Love You,” before putting Houston’s version to shame. All the while she’ll present a brilliant Americana songbook rivaled only by Willie Nelson’s.