Given that you’re reading this on the Internet, there’s a chance that you’re thinking Dolly Parton is too much of an old-timer and a little bit too country for you to enjoy her new album, Blue Smoke. You should reconsider. A genuine legend of the game, this is the multi-multi-talented Dolly Parton’s unfathomable 42nd studio album and she’s yet to drop her game after several decades. If you’re into modern indie folk and banjo driven alt-rock and want to see where these artists have their roots, you should take this 12 track lesson from one of the originals.
Blue Smoke exhibits the best of Dolly’s boot-scooting, straight shooting storytelling. Singing of love and loss, heartache and longing for home, her vocals are as southern and majestic as ever. The release coincides with her international Blue Smoke World Tour, which would be well worth catching if you have the chance, as her live shows are as energetic as any modern pop star.
The opening and title track serves as the lead single, and the upbeat banjo and strings-lead tune is primed for the live show; a stirring square-dance, foot tap and hand clap inducing ditty. The album sees Dolly reunite with Kenny Rogers on You Can’t Make Old Friends, where the two go verse for verse and harmonize eloquently throughout the chorus. Another Country legend, Willie Nelson, features on the slow jam From Here to the Moon and Back. His iconic vocals stroll effortlessly through the track, with hers dipping in to add vibrancy to the duet.
The eerie Banks of The Ohio, a rendition of old pal Porter Wagoner’s 1969 release, exhibits Dolly’s spine-tingling a cappella and harmonizing skills, before being accompanied by a more rousing banjo and fiddle riff. Amongst her more synonymous bluegrass and country sounds, Dolly shows her versatility on tracks like Home and Miss You Miss Me, implementing more traditional rock and pop elements, and Lay Your Hands on Me embodies the gospel vibe that Dolly likes to touch on.
The album also sees her dabble in French on back end track Lover du Jour, although in her ever self-depreciating sense of humour, acknowledges that she isn’t exactly fluent and that they’ll probably be laughing at her in France. Dolly has the laugh last however with closing track Try, an invigorating and encouraging number that gives a feel-good finale to the album.
Blue Smoke is a standout example as to why Dolly Parton is the most decorated female country performer of all time and duly a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. She again demonstrates her ability to intertwine country with multiple genres to create anything from buoyant dance tunes to haunting unaccompanied tearjerkers. Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and having just turned 68, Dolly Parton is still red hot.