Dolly Parton, ‘Rockstar': Album Review
Dolly Parton has nothing to prove at this point. A legend for decades, the 77-year-old country singer and songwriter got her start performing on local Tennessee radio stations before she even turned 10. By the time her name and immediately recognizable appearance entered the stratosphere in the late '70s, she had already racked up a lifetime of career milestones.
So when Parton announced she was making her first rock 'n' roll album following her 2022 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame - to justify an honor she initially rejected - it was a personal goal, not something she felt she had to do for anyone else. And she's gone all in on Rockstar, her 49th album, enlisting everyone from the two surviving Beatles to her goddaughter Miley Cyrus to the ghost of late Lynyrd Skynyrd singer Ronnie Van Zant to help out.
At 30 songs and running more than two hours and 20 minutes, Parton intends Rockstar to be her final and definitive word on the subject. And rather than meeting the guests - John Fogerty, Peter Frampton, Debbie Harry, Elton John and Stevie Nicks among them - on their home ground, Parton sticks close enough to her country roots while leaving some room for their, and occasionally her, more aggressive guitars and vocals.
She wastes no time getting down to business. The opening title track starts with a rapid-fire pop-metal guitar solo (by Bon Jovi's Richie Sambora) as Parton declares her ambition to rock to skeptical parents. Slight hokeyness aside, the song serves as the latest messenger for the same philosophy she's been pushing for more than five decades: "Don't ever give up on your dreams." Highlights include the self-penned "World on Fire" (a rare political outing for the decidedly unpolitical Parton and one of the few tracks where she goes solo); an expanded take on Heart's "Magic Man" (with the song's co-writer, Ann Wilson) dedicated to Parton's longtime husband; a sultry "Night Moves" with Chris Stapleton; and a moving remake of her 1971 song "My Blue Tears" featuring Simon Le Bon.
But is Rockstar rock 'n' roll? The guitars often lean that way, even if Parton's iconic honeyed voice isn't always up for the task; she's too nuanced a singer for some of these familiar and showy songs (see "[I Can't Get No] Satisfaction," Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker"). Still, Rockstar, while overlong, is too consistent and thought-out to be a mere curio in Parton's extensive catalog. At the very least, she's made good on her Rock & Roll Hall of Fame promise.
Artists Who Should Be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Gallery Credit: UCR Staff