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Parton makes the switch to rock on ‘Rockstar’

Rockstar is Dolly Partons first album in the rock and roll genre.
Photo via Butterfly Records and Big Machine Records
‘Rockstar’ is Dolly Parton’s first album in the rock and roll genre.

Dolly Parton is seen by some as one of the most influential icons ever. She has a theme park, a huge social media following, a couple dozen solo albums, 25 No. 1 country hits, a Barbie doll, and two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to her name.

But there is one thing she hasn’t done until now, at age 77: release a rock n’ roll album.

Rockstar, a 30-track album released today, is exactly what it sounds like: Parton’s explosive entrance into the world of rock. With her influence, Parton was able to feature an A-list collaborator on almost every track on the album.

The lyrics from the bridge of the title track “Rockstar,” penned by Parton, explain her reasoning behind her recent genre switch: “Don’t you ever give up on your dreams / No matter how far-fetched they seem / They may not be all that extreme.” This track features Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi on guitar.

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World On Fire,” the first single released, tackles more sensitive issues such as politics and global warming. It has a catchy chorus of “liar, liar, the world’s on fire” that accentuates Parton’s voice well. This is one of only a few originals on the album, and it has thought-provoking lyrics.

Parton’s ambitions were big on some of the songs, as she chose to record her versions of the best classic rock songs out there.

— Evelyn Esek

The rest of the songs are covers of some of the most recognizable and iconic classic rock songs ever released, most featuring the original artists.

Parton’s cover of “You’re No Good,” featuring Emmylou Harris and Sheryl Crow, fits her voice well. This song is a nice tribute to Linda Ronstadt, who recently had to step back from the music industry due to illness.

What Has Rock and Roll Ever Done To You?,” perhaps the best new song on the album, is a song penned by Stevie Nicks that was left off of her 1985 album Rock a Little.

Parton’s and Nicks’ low and rough voices blend well, and their passion for music and performing with each other show through the delivery of the vocals. This song also has Waddy Wachtel, Nicks’ longtime lead guitar player, as part of the band.

The song starts and ends with Nicks and Parton laughing and talking to each other. Parton says at the end, “This was fun, we should do this again sometime.” Yes, having the country diva and the rock gypsy collaborate on another song is always a good idea.

“What’s Up?,” featuring Linda Perry, is a throwback to Parton’s country days with twangy guitar and more country-esque slurring of words than on other songs.

On a more modern take, Parton features her goddaughter Miley Cyrus on Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.” The vocal blend of the two voices is decent, but here’s hoping Parton won’t choose to recreate Cyrus’ music video.

These tracks all could have been more different than the original, and added more Dolly Parton flair, but instead seemed like cut-and-dry covers. 

— Evelyn Esek

Parton’s version of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” features P!nk and Brandi Carlile, and the three strong female voices blend well together. For this song, Parton said she had originally wanted to feature Mick Jagger, but his work schedule could not accommodate.

Parton’s ambitions were big on some of the songs, as she chose to record her versions of the best classic rock songs out there. However, some audiences may be lost on these versions, as the covers are too well-known.

On “Stairway to Heaven,” with Lizzo and her Sasha Flute, the song is too iconic to be covered. It has been covered by so many different artists, but none can compare to Led Zeppelin’s version. Lizzo’s flute is a nice addition, but Parton’s voice does not match the song.

The same concept applies to Parton’s version of “Let It Be,” featuring Mick Fleetwood, Ringo Starr, and Paul McCartney; “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” with Elton John; “Every Breath You Take” with Sting; and “Baby I Love Your Way” with Peter Frampton. These tracks all could have been more different than the original, and added more Dolly Parton flair, but instead seemed like cut-and-dry covers.

On her rendition of “Free Bird,” the last track on the album, Parton uses stored versions of the song to include members of Lynyrd Skynyrd who have passed away. It is a mix of the original song and new additions by Parton. The iconic guitar solo is note for note, but Parton ad-libs some lines at the end of the song as well.

Overall, Rockstar seems like an epic karaoke party with the biggest names in rock.

This story was originally published on Purbalite on November 17, 2023.