Can Dolly Parton really rock? Our verdict on the country legend’s ‘Rockstar’ revamp

Can Dolly Parton really rock? Our verdict on the country legend’s ‘Rockstar’ revamp

Let’s be real: Dolly Parton is not a rock singer.

Nor — as her much-hyped head-banger makeover on “Rockstar” demonstrates — does she have any business making a “rock” album.

But, at 77, the country legend has, as much as any living artist today, more than earned the right — at least three lifetimes over — to do whatever the hell she wants.

And really, this whole vanity project was fueled by the humility with which Parton has become a goddess on earth. After she was nominated for the Rock & Roll of Fame last year, she gracefully and ever-so-graciously asked for her name to be withdrawn from the ballot.

“I don’t feel that I have earned that right,” she said in a statement. “I really do not want votes to be split because of me, so I must respectfully bow out.”

Then, in her inimitable Dolly way of finding the positive in a potentially prickly scenario, she said that the nomination had “inspired me to put out a hopefully great rock ’n’ roll album at some point in the future.”

Well, against her initial wishes, Parton was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame anyway in November 2022. And she made good on her promise to deliver a rock ’n’ roll album with “Rockstar.”

However, it hardly qualifies as “great.”

What it is is a way for one of our most beloved artists to indulge herself in doing her favorite rock songs — some of them as duets with the artists who originally made them famous.

Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton remakes rock classics such as “Freebird,” “Every Breath You Take” and The Beatles’ “Let It Be” on “Rockstar.”

There’s Sting with her on “Every Breath You Take,” Joan Jett & the Blackhearts on “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” Elton John on “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” Debbie Harry on “Heart of Glass” and Pat Benatar on “Heartbreaker.” She’s even got freaking Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr on “Let It Be.”

Now that’s respect.

Most of it is harmless, heartwarming fun — although Prince might be cringing up above the clouds when she does “Purple Rain” — simply because it’s a Dolly lovefest.

The cover of Dolly Parton's "Rockstar" album.
Dolly Parton released her “Rockstar” album, featuring an all-star array of guests, on Friday.
Butterfly Records

But ultimately it’s another all-star duets album that legacy artists such as Parton tend to do toward the end of their careers. It’s a victory lap with even next-genners such as Pink, Brandi Carlile and goddaughter Miley Cyrus kissing Godmother’s ring.

But it’s hardly the revelatory revamp that Johnny Cash made late in his career with über-producer Rick Rubin. And perhaps Parton should have played to her strengths by making these rock songs more country.

Still, when Parton sings “What Has Rock and Roll Ever Done for You” with Stevie Nicks, you’ll just enjoy the moment right along with them.

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