Dolly Parton initially turned down her 2022 nomination for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because she, of course, first gained fame as a country music singer/songwriter, not a rock artist. In response, she recorded Rockstar, a sprawling, nearly two-and-a-half-hour album of (mainly) rock duets. These duets are sung with established rock stars, and Parton sounds like she (and they) had a blast recording ‘em together. Listening through these classic rock hits makes it abundantly clear that Parton – in addition to being an underrated songwriter – is simply one fantastic singer.
Many other rock singers would get blown away by Heart’s Ann Wilson when attempting to match lyrical lines with that vocal powerhouse. Parton, though, goes toe-to-toe with Wilson on “Magic Man,” proving she’s by no means any shrinking violet. Parton didn’t become a rock star because she grew up in rural Tennessee, raised on country music. However, had she grown up elsewhere, listening to a steady diet of rock, she could have probably become a successful rock artist. She can belt it out over screaming electric guitars, just like the best rock vocalists.
Although most of these inclusions find Parton singing with these song’s originators, she does perform a few songs (“World on Fire,” which she penned) and Prince’s “Purple Rain” alone, as well as a few others without any celebrity artist assistance. There’s plenty of girl power on Rockstar, with Stevie Nicks, Miley Cyrus, Brandi Carlile, Joan Jett, and Debbie Harry all joining the party. The notable guys include John Fogerty, Peter Frampton, Steven Tyler, and Steve Perry.
In addition to its long track list, the album also incorporates some fun theatrical dialogue, such as Parton talking about dreams of becoming a rocker to introduce the title track, “Rockstar,” as well as a silly bit of conversation with an Elvis soundalike (Ronnie McDowell) that fills “I Dreamed About Elvis” (which also features The King’s backing singers, The Jordanaires). And to be honest, “My Blue Tears,” which is given a touch of a Celtic arrangement for her duet with Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon, isn’t technically a rock recording. No matter, though, because there’s more than enough certifiable rock & roll on this project elsewhere.
In our tragically divided times, there are so few things we can all agree on. That list is getting smaller every day. One shining exception, though, is Dolly Parton. She is one of the most likable celebrities. The country music community treasures her, and this release reveals just how much the rock world loves her. The term ‘rockstar’ has come to mean more than just a musical style these days. It’s used to describe anyone that’s especially good at something. Dolly Parton earns her rock music credentials with this legitimate rock album. However, she was already a beloved rockstar in the more generalized definition of the term. Rockstar won’t make you love Parton – you almost certainly already love her to pieces. No, it will only make you love her even more.