he ‘acknowledgements’ section of Dolly Parton’s fabulous 1994 autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business runs to 10 whole pages, each one consisting of two neat columns. Among the hundreds of lucky folks included are “all my lovers and sweethearts” and – as if her place in Heaven weren’t assured – “all airline personnel”. The Queen of Country radiates positivity and gratitude.
Yet when she was invited into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame last year, Dolly initially declined, explaining: “I don’t feel that I have earned that right… This has, however, inspired me to put out a hopefully great rock’n’roll album at some point in the future, which I have always wanted to do!” She thankfully had a change of heart and ripped it up at the hallowed Hall’s ceremony, slamming on a jewel-encrusted guitar and belting out beefy new tune ‘Rockin’’.
Now here’s the album itself: a whopping 30 rhinestone rockers. Dolly’s long been celebrated for her knack of bringing people together and the tracklist, which features nine originals amid covers of enormous anthems, groans with big-name collaborators. The surviving Beatles join a bombastic ‘Let It Be’, for God’s sake, proving that their tasteful ‘final’ single ‘Now and Then’ wasn’t the last word after all. Elsewhere, Dolly’s goddaughter Miley Cyrus helps to reimagine ‘Wrecking Ball’ as an ‘80s rock ballad.
So Dolly’s rock’n’roll pantheon is a broad church, with room for both The Police’s new-wave softie ‘Every Breath You Take’ (yes, Sting naturally turns up) and a jumbo-sized ‘We Are the Champions’. Her inclusiveness has drawn some heat lately, given that the unpleasant Kid Rock appears on the cocksure ‘Either Or’, a fact she’s defended with natural bonhomie: “I don’t condemn or criticise. I just accept and love.” Lizzo’s admittedly gorgeous flute trilling on ‘Stairway to Heaven’, meanwhile, must have seemed like a better idea before she was mired in her own controversy.
Ultimately, though, this is an album epitomised by ‘I Dreamed About Elvis’, a goofy new track on which country star Ronnie McDowell warbles through a hokey impression of the titular icon. The real King once nearly covered her classic ‘I Will Always Love You’, but Dolly reluctantly blocked it for business reasons. Now, in a joyful act of wish fulfilment, she and the impersonator briefly slip into a duet of the song. Despite the odd unfortunate guest, ‘Rockstar’ is as bursting with life and positivity as the woman who made it.
- Release date: November 17, 2023
- Record label: Butterfly Records