NASHVILLE — When Thomas Wolfe said "You can't go home again," he'd obviously never encountered Dolly Parton. The Appalachian-born singer/songwriter successfully returns to her roots on her new project Little Sparrow, while gearing up for a big splash — literally — at her Smoky Mountain theme park, Dollywood.
Released on January 23, Parton's new album revisits the same musical territory as her last release, The Grass Is Blue, which won the album of the year accolade at last October's International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards.
"I think I'm on the right track as far as the people who like to hear me do really heartfelt, gut music," said Parton. "This is really who I truly am. It's my roots, my Smoky Mountain DNA. It's in every fiber of my body. When I open my mouth to sing these songs, it amazes me the feeling I get here in my heart and down inside my soul."
Parton said she was thrilled that the bluegrass community accepted her. "I've always done bluegrass music," she noted. "Like I said to some of the people up there [at the IBMA awards], it's not like I came in the back door with this music, I've been doing it on my front porch for years."
On Little Sparrow, Parton creates an acoustic album that incorporates elements beyond bluegrass. "I'm calling it 'blue mountain music,'" she said. "It's mountain music and it's bluegrass. I've just kind of picked a name for the music and I really think 'blue mountain music' is right on. I'm not calling this a bluegrass album; it has a lot of bluegrass in it, but hopefully will go beyond that."
On this album, Parton widens the scope with a Celtic-flavored number featuring the
Irish ensemble Altan and covers songs from Cole Porter to the Eagles to Collective Soul. She is joined by a variety of special guests, among them Alison Krauss, Sonya Isaacs, Becky Isaacs Bowman, Maura O'Connell, Dan Tyminski, Keith Little and Claire Lynch.
The Isaacs sisters join Parton for a stunning cover of the Steve Young-penned "Seven Bridges Road" (RealAudio excerpt), which the Eagles turned into a classic.
"Sonya and Becky are unbelievable," Parton said. "I've always loved that song and thought it would be great sung with women, because the only way I've ever heard it was sung with men. So I thought I'd gather me up some good girls. So I did it with the Isaacses, and they did a great job. They are such great singers. I feel real fortunate to have all the great people I have on this album."
In addition to covers, such as the bluegrass chestnut "I Don't Believe You've
Met My Baby" and the Cole Porter gem "I Get A Kick Out Of You," the 14-song collection features the Parton originals "Bluer Pastures," "My Blue Tears" (RealAudio excerpt), "Marry Me," "Mountain Angel," and the title track, "Little Sparrow" (RealAudio excerpt).
"The reason I did this album, and the one before, was because I was in-between labels and wasn't sure what I was going to be doing," said Parton, who now records for her own Blue Eye label in partnership with Sugar Hill Records. "I knew they weren't playing me on country radio anyway, because of my age, just being an older artist, and probably because I wasn't doing commercial country, and I wasn't blaming them. I understand that.
"When I did 'The Grass Is Blue,' and got into singing those songs, I really realized how much I loved it. And then this [album felt] the same, but that does not mean that I don't intend to do some more country songs like the Faith Hills. In fact, I will always continue to do this style and do at least one album of this style every year or 18 months, no matter what else I do because I still want to be able to be Dolly.
"I want to do another pop album. I feel like I could do a dance album or definitely a good solid country album. Plus, I want to do a gospel album. Gospel music and this style of music that I'm doing right now really is who I truly am."
Asked if she has plans to sign other artists and develop her Blue Eye label into a full-fledged company, as Kenny Rogers has with his Dreamcatcher Records, Parton said, "I could do that, but it's too much work and I'm not interested in it. It's the same with my publishing company; I don't really want to bring new writers into that. Same with my label; it's an outlet for me. I've got too many friends and family. I'd go crazy trying to record everybody. Right now I have no plans to take it further than what I'm doing."
In addition to performing a few as-yet unscheduled concerts to promote Little
Sparrow, Parton will begin shooting a television movie this spring, a remake of
"Solid Gold Cadillac."
She will also unveil a new water park this spring, the newest addition to Dollywood, her theme park in east Tennessee.