At age 70, country music legend Dolly Parton is arguably more beloved than ever before. Her work transcends generational boundaries, and she’s the rare Nashville artist who has openly embraced gay and lesbian fans. Which a career that goes back to the late ‘50s, chances are that even if you don’t own one of her records, you know her songs.

There are veteran performers who stop recording new music and rest on their laurels, but not Parton. Her new album Pure & Simple comes out on August 19, and the two albums she recorded with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris will be reissued in September along with a host of previously unreleased tracks as the Complete Trio Collection. There’s a new NBC special, Christmas of Many Colors, is coming in November.

Parton touched on all three of these projects as she stopped in Tulsa, Oklahoma to promote her new album. But mostly the night was about what everyone’s come to love about over the decades, which is her personality, style and, yes, the songs. There are stories along the way too, and if the first half of her show at Tulsa’s BOK Center laid those on a little heavy, her charms made that easily forgivable.

Between old favorites like “Jolene,” “Precious Memories” and “My Tennessee Mountain Home” came stories about her humble beginnings in rural Tennessee. These don’t just tell us what inspired Parton to write them: they also show just how much of her career has been based on the experiences of her early life. “Coat of Many Colors,” “Applejack” and “Smoky Mountain Memories” all speak to those early years, specific to Parton’s life but with universal resonance. Her tales of rustic characters living in poverty are as lively and relevant today as they were when she first wrote them.

With a rhinestone-covered dress, powder-blonde wig and high heel shoes that probably cost more than Blake Shelton’s guitar, Parton positively glowed under the lights. She was bright enough and white enough to appear like an apparition on the stage as she cracked jokes about politics: “No matter who wins, we’ll have to deal with PMS: Presidential Mood Swings.” With a sense of humor about herself, she joked her own costume and her marriage: “I said we’ve been married for 50 years, I didn’t say we’ve been happy for 50 years.” She also addressed the absence of a live drummer on the stage, spinning it as a disagreeable musician who said the wrong thing to the boss and found himself axed. In truth, it probably had more to do with stage volume and, frankly, the fact that drums aren’t central to her sound. A drum machine does just fine, thanks.

Surprises included a medley that included “American Pie,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Dust in the Wind” and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Having chugged through the set with changes between guitar, banjo, dulcimer and saxophone, Parton announced a break that didn’t just signal the end of the first set but also a distinct split in her career.

If the first half was Dolly’s origin story, then the second set was all about what became of the poor girl from Tennessee. With a much harder-hitting sound, she worked through “Baby I’m Burning” (adding a dash of “Girl on Fire”), “Two Doors Down,” “Here You Come Again” and, of course, “9 to 5.” As good as it was to hear those hits, the real showstoppers were an otherworldly take on “Little Sparrow” and “The Grass Is Blue.” The second of two songs from Pure & Simple, “Outside Your Door,” arrived early in the set and fit nicely if somewhat unremarkably among the rest.

Parton closed out the night with “I Will Always Love You” and a slightly overwrought “Hello God/He’s Alive.” By the time the latter arrived a number of audience members had begun to scramble for the exits. It was just as well. The singer most of us know and love had done her best work by then and given us a lot to hope and pray for, and those who left after her signature song happily felt the same way about Dolly Parton.

  • Dolly Parton: Pure and Simple

    An indication that the country superstar doesn’t consider her artistic life anywhere close…
  • Concert Review: Tool

    Thousands of concertgoers were unwittingly taking part in the last arena performance any o…
  • Concert Review: Refused

    The world still needs bands like Refused. Here’s hoping their next Portland show isn’t pre…
  • Concert Review: The Mountain Goats

    The act of playing three nights to sold-out crowds as a solo artist can be incredibly daun…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Check Also

Hunt Sales Memorial: Get Your Shit Together

Stamped into his personality and his music is a boldness that commands respect. …