In its rush to embrace the youth movement of Faith Hill, Shania Twain, and the Dixie Chicks, the country music industry has left a lot of its veterans in the dust — including Dolly Parton. But the bold and brassy blonde isn't dripping any tears in her beer — or whatever her beverage of choice is.
Still basking in the glow of 1999's acclaimed The Grass Is Blue, which earned Parton a Grammy nomination for her cover of Billy Joel's "Travelin' Prayer," Parton has come out with Little Sparrow, another acoustic collection that sports a broader palette of sounds and styles drawn from her Appalachian upbringing.
"I didn't want to get pigeonholed just into bluegrass," Parton says. "I wanted to do more mountain music, more things with Irish flavor. I call it my Smoky Mountain DNA; this music, I live it, I feel it, I grew up with that. These are the songs I came out of the mountains singing and moved to Nashville and tried to make a living with. You can't make much money with this music, but it feels good to be back singing it."
One of the surprises on Little Sparrow is an interpretation of Collective Soul's rock hit "Shine," which Parton says comes from a real affinity for the original version of the song. "When that record came out years ago, my husband and I were riding in the car and heard it," Parton remembers. "We listened to see who it was and went and got it and played it off and on in the house for years. I've been trying to think of how I can sing it without all the rock stuff; it sounds spiritual and all that, and the melody lent itself well to some bluegrass harmonies. I figured we'd kick it around and if it didn't work, we wouldn't put it on. But it worked out great."
Parton is planning only limited live work to support Little Sparrow, mostly because it's difficult to assemble the ace musicians — including Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas, Chris Thile, Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton, Jim Mills, and others — who perform on the album. "After working with them," she says, "I won't settle for anything less."
She has plenty of other things occupying her time, including a performance next week at the Grammy Awards and two TV movies — a remake of Solid Gold Cadillac and a gospel musical called Heaven to Betsy — as well as a film adaptation of the Little Sparrow song "Mountain Angel." She's also preparing for the April opening of her Dollywood amusement park's 16th season, with a $20 million water park slated to open on May 19.