The Country Music Hall of Famer, 68, released her 42nd album, “Blue Smoke,” on Tuesday, and is playing four Oklahoma shows this month as part of her global trek. The old adage “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” certainly applies to still-sizzling music legend Dolly Parton.
The most successful female country singer of all time released last week her 42nd album, “Blue Smoke,” which returns to the bluegrass-infused sound of her native Tennessee while still showing the flair for eclecticism and reinvention that have helped keep her relevant during her nearly half-decade career.
The album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Country Chart and No. 6 on the all-genre Billboard 200.
“Being from the Smoky Mountains and ... being a country girl with that kind of mountain flavor, we did use a lot of bluegrass and country instruments in the album. But we do some pretty stiff rockers as well. We did a cover of Bon Jovi’s ‘Lay Your Hands on Me,’ kind of did it as a gospel flavor, we rewrote the lyrics, and so I’m very excited about that,” Parton said by phone last fall during a round of interviews prior to embarking on her 2014 "Blue Smoke World Tour.”
“It’s got a good mixture of gospel, a good mixture of mountain (music), a little bit of bluegrass-flavored, and some pretty heavy rockin’ stuff. We do all that in concert, so I think that it’s nice to do that on a CD as well, let the fans get a chance to see you do a lot of different styles.”
Parton, 68, wasn’t kidding about the Bon Jovi cover, a sort of Pentecostal boot-stomper that the feisty singer-songwriter is still capable of pulling off with aplomb. The album also features a sweeter and sadder reading of Bob Dylan’s "Don't Think Twice,” which like the title track and the ballad “Unlikely Angel,” is prettily gussied up with bluegrass instrumentation.
As mercurial as the “Blue Smoke” invoked with the title, her new release shifts from a haunting rendition of the traditional murder ballad “Banks of the Ohio,” a duet with Willie Nelson on the standard “From Here to the Moon and Back” and a touching re-pairing with fellow “Islands in the Stream” hit-maker Kenny Rogers on “You Can’t Make Old Friends.”
With "Blue Smoke," Parton scored her highest-charting solo album ever, according to a news release. Despite her acclaim, she had only landed on the Top 10 of the Billboard 200 once before "Blue Smoke," with "Trio," her collaborative set with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt. It peaked at No. 6 on May 2, 1987, after earlier debuting at No. 38 on March 28, 1987.
Although "Blue Smoke" doesn’t have any rap songs on it, that didn’t stop the Parton from delivering a hilarious hip-hop performance on “The Queen Latifah Show” last fall. The Country Music Hall of Famer said her previous attempt at rap had garnered a lot of laughs when the actress/singers were out promoting their 2012 movie “Joyful Noise,” so the country queen decided to surprise Queen Latifah on her talk show with a flamboyant try at busting out the rhymes.
“I wanted to surprise her with it wearing the afro, and she didn’t know I was coming out with that afro and doing that song. She thought I was doing something else. It got so much attention, I may have to do some sort of a rap thing (on tour). I may just change a few words, you know, maybe I’ll have to do a rap song about Australia or about America or about Europe,” Parton said, laughing. “But I don’t think that anybody’s gonna mistake me for any rap artist any time soon.”
A country music pioneer, Parton not only blazed a feminist trail alongside Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette in the 1960s and ‘70s but also successfully crossed over into pop music, made the cover of Rolling Stone and appeared in Hollywood movies.
Since, she has continued to act in films and branched out in musicals, theme parks, her own Dolly Records, philanthropic efforts and a variety of other projects. So, she’s not afraid to try a little rap or the giggly French/English “Blue Smoke” “Lover Du Jour” or most anything else, mostly because she’s not afraid to take chances – or to laugh at herself.
“That does come just from a sense of humor. You gotta find the humor in everything ‘cause there’s enough craziness in this world, enough stuff to drag you down, so I try to find all the positive stuff I can to lift myself as well as other people up. ‘Cause there’s nothing like a good laugh to lift your spirits, right?” she said.