(Dolly Records/Sony Masterworks)
4 out of 5 stars
With an extensive discography that spans six decades, Dolly Parton at age 68 could have easily rested upon her laurels, but instead she chose to deliver her most beguiling work in years with her 42nd studio album, Blue Smoke. While her skills as a musician and multi-instrumentalist may often get overlooked, Parton’s acumen as a Grammy-winning songwriter is firmly intact and amply displayed throughout Blue Smoke’s 12 exquisite tracks.
On her latest set, Parton not only dares to take on Bon Jovi’s “Lay Your Hands on Me,” making it her own by transforming it into a gospel-tinged anthem, but delivers an infectious version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice,” and teams up with friends Kenny Rogers (“You Can’t Make Old Friends”) and Willie Nelson (“From Here to the Moon and Back”) with extraordinary results. Parton even manages to successfully pull off the tongue in cheek “Lover du Jour,” which would be utterly laughable performed by anyone else. Also featured is Parton’s heartwarming ditty and latest single “Home” (“Where the warm wind’s blowing and the river’s flowing/Where I can lay down my heavy load and know that I am always welcome”), which is akin to her 1984 hit “Tennessee Homesick Blues,” and easily feels apt cozying up alongside the rest of Parton’s best work.
With its inclusion of all of Parton’s musical trademarks, from the bluegrass timbre of the opening title track to the uplifting closer “Try,” Blue Smoke easily hits its mark of making us look within ourselves while laughing through our tears. Dolly Parton’s timeless voice and prolific contribution to music will continue to speak volumes long after she’s finished sharing her talents.