Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
olly Parton may be a brand - sometimes corny jokes about her chest, her blonde wig, rhinestone outfits, hillbilly trash image. But that would be cutting Parton way short because on her first full-scale tour in 25 years, the Tennessee mountain girl retained her lovely singing abilities, story telling and plethora of material from very old to not even released yet.
Parton said she called the tour "Pure and Simple," also the name of her forthcoming release. It's a set of love songs, and in concert, that also meant keeping the focus on Parton's singing and stories.
With an entrance to "Hello Dolly," Parton, decked out in a white jumpsuit, tapped into "Train, Train," and the upbeat "Why'd You Come In Here Lookin' Like That" before launching into one of her best known songs, "Jolene."
Parton preceded the latter with a typically humorous story about her husband, Carl, to whom she's married 50 years this year, seeming to have something going on with the long-legged redhead at the local bank. Parton marched down to the bank and took care of business. She also turned in a worthy reading of the song.
The new material - "Pure & Simple" and "Outside Your Door" - both stood up to other songs Parton offered.
Parton mixed it up by sitting down for a few songs, going back to her roots with "Precious Memories," "My Tennessee Mountain Home," Coat of Many Colors" and "Smoky Mountain Memories." Standing up to play banjo, Parton intoned "Applejack," about a mountain man, who taught her to play music. This was her past, and it had a profound influence on what Parton became.
She also dipped into a few songs she did with Trio, her super group with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, which will put out unreleased material this September.
Parton writes most of her own material, she also has musical dexterity, playing electric and acoustic guitar, dulcimer, autoharp, sax and piano during the course of the 2-set, 127-minute show.
One could argue that at 70, Parton needed some downtime between songs. Thus, the stories, but that's part of her concert history and what made the songs come alive. Parton relished telling her fans about her past, growing up dirt poor in eastern Tennessee, 1 of 12 children born to a farmer, who barely eked out a living. When she talked about love and kindness carrying the family, you knew Parton wasn't talking platitudes, but was a true believer.
Backed by a three-piece of bass, acoustic guitar and keyboards, Parton referred to a missing space on the large stage. She told the crowd that's where the drummer was slated to be. She offered a yarn that the drummer complained about something having to do with Parton and was off the tour.
Parton obviously was joking, but it was too bad she didn't have a live drummer. Spinning another tale, Parton said she went into Radio Shack and purchased a $45 drum machine.
Why she didn't have a real, live drummer was a conundrum. Too bad because the machine sounded, well, like a machine. It also resulted in a lack of spontaneity.
But this was by no means a pain-by-the-numbers, golden moldies show at all. Yes Parton may have closed with her pop-oriented hits of "Here You Come Again," "Islands in the Stream" and the rousing regular set closing, still potent female empowerment anthem, "9 to 5," but there is a lot of love and musical depth to Parton.
Parton encored with her "I Will Always Love You." It's not easy singing that when the yardstick is the late Whitney Houston's version. Parton dedicated the song to her fans, and like most of what Parton is truly about, it rang true.