Gig review: Dolly Parton

Dolly was in full, inimitable Dolly mode, the stories sad, the voice sublime,. Picture: Getty

Dolly was in full, inimitable Dolly mode, the stories sad, the voice sublime,. Picture: Getty

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IT WOULD take a hard-bitten and deeply cynical soul not to be charmed and moved by Dolly Parton, the self-styled Backwoods Barbie with big hair, a huge heart, mighty lungs and other outsized assets relative to her tiny frame, who arrived onstage all pep, smiles, rhinestones and cutesy handjive moves.

Dolly Parton - The Hydro, Glasgow

****

Soon enough, those restless hands set to work on an array of stringed instruments – dulcimer, autoharp, banjo – all customised with country bling.

The Dolly dichotomy was in full effect from the off – her playful trash aesthetic somehow never impinging on the simple sincerity of her songs, even when she donned a quite extraordinary hot pink fringed playsuit for the second half.

While she twinkled out front, imparting her folksy wisdom (who else could be forgiven for the line “paint a pretty rainbow, brushed with love across the sky”?) and well-worn aphorisms about the cost of looking cheap, her band of oldtimers turned the dial up and down as required, from pacey bluegrass to over-ripe pop country and back to just a hint of misty mountain ambience.

The story of her life was woven through much of the set, enforcing the official Dolly narrative already familiar to many of her fans but used to underline the authenticity of her lyrics. Yes, she was singing about her own Coat Of Many Colours and those Smoky Mountain Memories were all her own.

If her stories were a touch poverty picturebook, her songs achieved a deeper resonance, thanks to her innate interpretive ability.

Her singing was exquisite throughout, whether reeling in the audience with her quiet conversational phrasing or soaring at full, rich belt. That unique voice was at its most drop-dead stunning when delivering a spine-tingling rendition of the “plum pitiful” Little Sparrow, unaccompanied save for sparingly-used backing vocals and keyboard drone.

At the other end of the showbiz spectrum, her cover of Bon Jovi’s Lay Your Hands On Me was about as camp as gospel gets without turning into a Kenny Everett sketch.

The top quality country cabaret continued through the closing run of (hen) party tunes, including the carefree 70s pop of Here You Come Again, the perennially popular 9 to 5 and the glorious Islands In The Stream, performed with her male backing singer, before a breathy then barnstorming encore of I Will Always Love You brought that disarming Dolly sincerity back into soft focus.

FIONA SHEPHERD

Seen on 17.06.14

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