Listen Up: Wednesday, July 18, 2002
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
Dolly Parton

Halos & Horns (Sugar Hill Records)

By Ken Shimamoto

Forget her glitzy late-’70s/early-’80s pop confections, and forgive her Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You.” A gal’s gotta pay the rent. Still a looker at 56, Dolly Parton seems to be finding a lot of mileage in her Locust Ridge, Tenn., roots. While it ain’t exactly Alison Krause, this offering blithely continues in a vein similar to Parton’s last two releases — 1999’s The Grass Is Blue and 2001’s Little Sparrow. The difference is that almost all of Halos & Horns is original (the exceptions are two covers; more on those later).

From the opening track, Parton’s in fine form, her voice aching and vulnerable in contrast to her exuberantly extroverted persona. The instrumental sound is heavy on fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and dobro, even though not all the material is traditional in sound — the ballads “Not For Me” and “If Only” sound like fodder for Nashville’s soulless ’70s hit machine. Here, though, producer Dolly keeps things admirably under control.

There are two big over-the-top moments on Halos & Horns. On the cloying but heartfelt “Hello God,” when a celestial choir starts swelling, no one would probably begrudge you if you suddenly felt compelled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with those bad words intact. A similar effect occurs when the choir reappears on “Raven Dove.” Elsewhere, songs like “Shattered Image” and “These Old Bones” project Parton’s hopeful, optimistic messages with less overt drama. The songs “What A Heartache” and “Dagger Through the Heart,” in particular, are standouts.

About those covers: I’m not sure why anyone would still be covering David Gates’ “If” or Led Zep’s “Stairway to Heaven” in 2002, but Parton does ’em up in relatively un-kooky fashion; she wins points for having the sheer brass to do so. Maybe an AC/DC song next time?


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