Review: Dolly Parton’s ‘Rockstar’ is a Trip Through Rock’s Greatest Songs

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Dolly Parton
(Big Machine Records)
5 out of 5 stars

It’s the little things. And Dolly Parton, known for big hair and country music’s most iconic silhouette, is a master of detail, right down to the opening of her new album, Rockstar, which begins with the essence of rock and roll: rebellion. Specifically, that of a child from her parents.

As Parton’s highly-anticipated new LP, out today (November 17), begins, we are taken back to where rock music in America flourished: the bedroom. Someone alone there, listening to an electric guitar on full blast as parents bang on the door loudly, demanding the music’s volume be turned down. Well, I’m gonna be in rock and roll / Whether you two like it our not!, Parton, playing the roll of progeny, shouts back to her folks.

[RELATED: A Look at All the Artists who Appear on Dolly Parton’s ‘Rockstar’]

Then the first track comes in. For an album that dives into covers of some of the most legendary rock songs of all time, Parton opens the LP with an original bang, the title track, “Rockstar.” Famously, Parton first declined her entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, saying she was a country artist, not a rocker. But upon finally accepting the nod, she followed up with an album to match her newfound recognition.

“I’m a rockstar now!” she announced at the Rock Hall upon her induction last year. And now this new record proves it. Brandishing a banshee voice that would make Axl Rose and Robert Plant blush, Parton transforms into a powerhouse on the opening song, singing: Don’t you ever give up on your dreams / No matter how far fetched they seem.

Anyone who doesn’t get shivers isn’t listening.

The 30-song release (33 songs if you buy the special edition from HSN) continues with another original, “World on Fire,” a part-protest, part-populist track about how “we’ve all lost sight of common decency.” It’s hard not to think about global temperatures rising given the track’s title. But it’s also one about political divisions and the general polarized nature of the globe at this time.

Parton brings some of her time-tested sensibilities from the genre to her new record, but backed by giant drums, lightning guitars, and some extra amplification and rebellious energy, Parton transforms from twang to sonic hawk, screeching warnings on the first two songs on the new LP.

From there, however, Parton transitions to a string of covers, beginning with “Every Breath You Take” by the Police. And Parton’s version, like so many of the songs on her new LP, includes a guest feature, this time by the Police’s frontman and bass player Sting. It could be easy to reduce the few dozen covers by Parton on the record as rock karaoke.

But much more than that, it’s a retrospective of the genre in the U.S., one in which Parton brings together so many of its stars to form her own constellation of artists. For Parton, one of the globe’s most beloved people, the move marks a sense of unity at a time when it’s needed most, even if it’s sparked by the sense of rebellion saved traditionally for rock music.

As the record (Parton’s 49th) unfolds, Parton is joined by the likes of Steve Perry, Ann Wilson, John Fogerty, Kid Rock, Steven Tyler, Warren Haynes, Stevie Nicks, Joan Jett, Peter Frampton, Chris Stapleton, P!nk, Brandi Carlile, Debbie Harry, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and many more.

One aspect of the album that may surprise some fans is just how much Parton’s voice soars on the new rock LP, matching the likes of Heart’s Wilson and other legends along the way. Parton, known for her stories and lyrics, demonstrates that she can belt with the best, even some six decades into her illustrious career.

There is something for every music fan on the record, from a cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain” to “Wrecking Ball” by Parton’s goddaughter, Miley Cyrus. For as much as the record is a tribute to rock and roll, it is as much a testament to Parton’s prestige. Who else could gather so many for a party in honor of the genre?

Indeed, the album is a show for for the ages, a show for one and all.

Standing ovation.

Photo by Getty Images/Getty Images

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