With the possible exception of puppies, the only thing Americans can agree on in this acrimonious era of ours is Dolly Parton. Wherever you may fall on the political spectrum, you'd be hard pressed to find anybody who would dispute her status as a national icon. And it's not just her prodigious talents – singer, songwriter, author, actress, philanthropist, theme park impresario, just to name a few – that we admire; it's her integrity.
In 2022, when she was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she tried to politely decline the honor. Any other country artist would have said to themselves, "Well, hey, Hank Williams is in the Rock Hall, so is Chet Atkins and Bill Monroe, for goodness sakes, so why not me?" But Dolly said no, she did not deserve it, and when she found out they were going to induct her anyway, she said, all right, then I'll just have to figure out a way to deserve it.
She could have phoned it in, do a couple of covers in her comfort zone, jazz up some of her old "Islands in the Stream" stuff that hit the pop charts back in the '80s. But that's not how Dolly does things. Instead, she set out to make a double album with online extras, and she got an all-star roster to rock with her. Actually "all-star" doesn't even begin to describe it. There are jukeboxes and karaoke machines that don't have this much rock royalty. Teaming up with Dolly are such immortals as Steven Tyler, Steve Perry and Stevie Nicks – and that's just the Steves. She also got Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, Elton John, Melissa Etheridge. The list literally goes on and on.
Every listener will have his or her favorites, but we can probably agree that the standout track, the one that closes out this album, is "Free Bird." If all she did was his almost 11-minute classic replete with Ronnie Van Zant and Gary Rossington, she would have merited that plaque in the Rock Hall.
And as if that wasn't enough, she also wrote or co-wrote nine new songs, including "I Dreamed About Elvis," a duet with Ronnie McDowell that pays tribute to roots shared by rock and country music. Rock and roll has apparently emboldened Dolly, giving her the courage to speak out an issues – something she has been criticized in the past for not doing – in the self-penned lead single "World on Fire." And if there's something more rock and roll than hearing Dolly sing "Greedy politicians, present and past / They wouldn't know the truth if it bit 'em in the ass," no one has ever heard it.
One could quibble that maybe a 77 year old arguing with her "parents" about rock and roll as she does in the intro to the title track is a bit much or that the duets work best with partners who are kind of country themselves – like John Fogerty or Ronnie Van Zant. Or that, given his history of controversies, Kid Rock was an odd choice to partner with. Or that Dolly's lilting soprano is sometimes a bit too breathy to really rock.
Or – well, one could miss the point in any number of ways. If we start arguing about Dolly then we'll really be going to the dogs.