So far, I featured the legendary Dolly Parton twice in my album reviews. In 2020, I shared my view albout A Holly Dolly Christmas, her nicely made holiday album. In 2022, she released Run, Rose, Run, which has been quite on the bluegrass side of country music. On 17th November 2023, Dolly Parton is back with her new album. It is called Rockstar – and that’s also the concept of the record. Let’s see how it is like to rock with Dolly.
Dolly Parton – About The Artist
The 1946 Dolly Rebecca Parton is – without a doubt – one of the biggest names in the history of country music. The legendary US-American artist, who is one of twelve siblings, started her career in 1956 already. Listing all of the achievements by the female country artist, who is a global synonym for the genre, would even be too much. She is an eleven time Grammy Award winner and (somehow, you are tempted to add “of course”) is honored on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as well as the Country Music Hall of Fame. Rockstar is Dolly Parton’s 49th(!) studio album.
Dolly Parton – Rockstar – Track by Track
The thirty song album lasts 2:22 hours(!)
1. Rockstar (feat. Richie Sambora)
Well, I’m gonna be in rock’n’roll, – whether you two like it or not. That’s the first statement by Dolly before she kicks off the opener. Together with Richie Sambora, she is repeating again and again I’ll be a rockstar. And, indeed, the opener does rock. It would be a shame if it wouldn’t when you hire Bon Jovi’s guitarist.
2. World on Fire
Like the title track, this single release is a Dolly Parton write. The song starts with a rather Asian-alike melody, but then also defines some melodic attitude. Especially the first line of the chorus, Liar, liar the world’s on fire, makes the song feel too simple. I feel it is not as good as Rockstar itself.
3. Every Breath You Take (feat. Sting)
Being a real Rockstar and writing own songs (especially thirty ones for this massive album) did likely feel a bit too much. Thus, quite a bunch of the songs are classics with a 2023 by the country legend. Not too rarely, there is even an original artist who has joined Parton in the studio. The same applies here. String and Dolly do The Police. I struggle with that – and will do in a couple of more songs in here. The cover version is too close to the original. Does Dolly really need to do these kind of pale imitation of this classic?
4. Open Arms (feat. Steve Perry)
Steve Perry has left Journey in 1998 already. But when Dolly is calling, he is doing a new version of Open Arms. I feel that Parton does a nice job and you feel the emotions in her voice. But apart that Journey is now calling like her (and Steve Perry), here is no real reason to me why I should prefer this version.
5. Magic Man (feat. Ann Wilson & Howard Leese)
Dolly Parton is doing this song by Heart. The supporting musicians are two original band members – Ann Wilson is still active with that band. It feels somehow cool to have these two guys on the album. The two ladies work well together on the vocal side.
6. Long as I Can See the Light (feat. John Fogerty)
The sixth song of the album is a Creedence Clearwater Revival song – so John Fogerty can’t be too far away from the studio. This version has a nice touch, as it feels more modern, but also more groovy as the original song.
7. Either Or (feat. Kid Rock)
Either Or is a nice example, how rock’n’roll and Dolly Parton’s voice might work out together. Dolly’s vocals feel to perfectly match the guitars, sax and the melody. Nice one.
8. I Want You Back (feat. Steven Tyler & Warren Haynes)
Not only due to the guest appearance by Steven Tyler, there are some Aerosmith vibes here and there. Overall, though, the song rather comes with swing attitudes. Sometimes rocking, sometimes rather a ballad. The voices of Dolly Parton and Steven Tyler work nicely together.
9. What Has Rock And Roll Ever Done For You (feat. Stevie Nicks & Waddy Wachtel)
For the ninth song, Stevie Nicks brings his original with me, joined by writer, composer and guitarist Waddy Wachtel. Dolly’s new version is again rather close to the original. The sound solely feels to be a bit of different due to her voice. Not bad, though.
10. Purple Rain
When I first read that Dolly Parton is doing her own version of Prince’s Purple Rain, I struggled with the idea. I just could not imagine that it is working. She stays close to the original, the key difference is in her general singing style. One of the most important pop and rock ballads of the 1980’s in solid new version.
11. Baby, I Love Your Way (feat. Peter Frampton)
When I think about this track, I majorly think about the 1994 version by Big Mountain, as it has been the most successful one in Europe. However, the song is originally a Peter Frampton one and dates back to the mid-1970’s. Not too surprisingly, Dolly’s and Frampton version is closer to the original and does not have the reggae vibes of the 1990’s. This 2023 collaboration is indeed a nice listen.
12. I Hate Myself for Loving You (feat. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts)
Similar to the opener, the dialog between Dolly Parton and Joan Jett at the beginning of the song is the highlight of this new version of the classic. I feel it is not a bad one – I however compare it too much to the version used for the Rock of Ages musical, which also nicely underlines a certain rock dirt. The song is nicely arranged between passages of the original artist and the country legend.
13. Night Moves (feat. Chris Stapleton)
Which country music artist would suit better on a rock music album by Dolly Parton than Chris Stapleton? Bob Seger has obviously not been around for that project, so the country rock artist is stepping in. A rather brave version, which does not leave that much of a mark.
14. Wrecking Ball (feat. Miley Cyrus)
This single release is one of the highlights of the album to me. It is maybe not too surprising that Dolly Parton chose this song by her godchild Miley Cyrus, but the way these two female artists turned the song into a hymnic ballad is really remarkable.
15. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (feat. P!nk and Brandi Carlile)
Keith Richards and Mick Jagger obviously gave the rights to this one, but not their voices or other kinds of collaboration. An all-female version of this rock classic is a nice idea. I feel that the song feels too pop-ish and misses that cool and raunchy sound of the Rolling Stones version. P!nk and Brandi Carlile do a nice job, I rather feel that the instrumental side of this track is too plushy.
16. Keep On Loving You (feat. Kevin Cronin)
This is another Rock of Ages track on Dolly’s album. Nobody but REO Speedwagons original singer and guitarist Kevin Cronin is joining for this new version. When both sing together, it is not too bad. The Dolly Parton solo parts, however, don’t work out well to me.
17. Heart of Glass (feat. Debbie Harry)
It feels that the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame (and maybe some other groups of music heroes) have joined forces to give this ultimate Dolly Parton listen. Some sort of huge respect to Dolly Parton, who definitely deserves that level of love. I can use some more words on this fact while writing about Heart of Glass, as – despite of Debbie Harry’s appearance – this new version neither creates a stunning sound nor leads to a very different look on the original, as for example the Wrecking Ball cover did.
18. Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me (feat. Elton John)
The English piano pop god is also part of this album – and he is having one of his most beautiful and legendary ballads in his bounties for the Rockstar. Again, this version is special because Dolly Parton and Elton John are singing it together. This is somehow nice and is leading to some interesting moments in the second half of the song, but I feel there is more potential in this setting.
19. Tried to Rock and Roll Me (feat. Melissa Etheridge)
This one is another Dolly Parton write. The song is a nice slow, laid back rock track, the collaboration with Melissa Etheridge is working well. Of course, as it is not a cover, it feels to be much easier to create something new and stunning. Nice one.
20. Stairway to Heaven (feat. Lizzo & Sasha Flute)
This eight minute track is one which gave me most struggle. I love the Led Zeppelin original (who doesn’t?) and I first was not that happy with this new version. But especially the idea of stripping the song down a bit and adding the ease of the flute sounds creates a new beauty. Ater two or three listens, Stairway to Heaven became one of my favorites in the Rockstar collection.
21. We Are the Champions / We Will Rock You
We already had the chance to listen to this combo of two Queens classic as a single release. So many bands sung these two songs already (at least live on stage). Now, Dolly does the same. I feel that this is one of the weakest moments of the whole albums. The We Are The Champions interpretation is not overwhelmingly stunning, the We Will Rock You coda-whatever thing feels like they just had to put this one on the album somehow as well.
22. Bygones (feat. Rob Halford & Nikki Sixx & John 5)
With Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Nikki Sixx (Moetley Crue) and former Marilyn Manson guitarist John 5, Dolly Parton wants to head towards the hard rock and heavy metal genres. Chumming up with the harder rock fans does not work out at all – also because the mastering of this song is done is such a gentle way that it neither frightens typical Dolly listens nor pleases dark rock souls.
23. My Blue Tears (feat. Simon Le Bon)
The contrast from Bygones to My Blue Tears could not be bigger. The guest musician of this track is Simon Le Bon, singer of Duran Duran. This new song starts very slow and gentle and also later just spreads sprinkles of rock attitudes. It does not stay in memory for too long.
24. What’s Up (feat. Linda Perry)
This recording of thr4 Non Blondes top-seller together with their very own Linda Perry was one of the listens which made me think that Rockstar could be a really huge album. The song perfectly suits to the biography of Dolly Parton. That’s what you feel while listening to it as well. The original is a bit more cheeky, but this version is not too bad.
25. You’re No Good (feat. Emmylou Harris & Sheryl Crow)
The lineup of this song is already magical. Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow and Dolly Parton – what a pile of female country music legends. They interpret the Linda Ronstadt classic in their very own way. The 2023 version feels like soul and swing. Maybe not a rock song as such, but a lovely listen, indeed.
26. Heartbreaker (feat. Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo)
While the heavy metal super-group featuring Dolly Parton was quite a fail, this version of Pat Benatar’s 1979 success underlines how cool Dolly could song on the rock stage. Put your hat off for some 3:40 minutes and the leather jacket over your bottomed Western-style shirt – this one is worth it.
27. Bittersweet (feat. Michael McDonald)
Doobie Brothers’ Michael McDonald is joining Dolly for this newly written rock ballad. The chorus feels very promising. Unfortunately, the stanzas rather slow me down than keeping me on a highly emotional level.
28. I Dreamed About Elvis (feat. Ronnie McDowell & The Jordanaires)
Dolly states that I Dreamed About Elvis. The song is full of reference to the songs of The King – and Ronie McDowell is adding Elvis Presley spirit. The impersonator just feels so much like the greatest ever of rock’n’roll that you have to get goosebumps. Here and there the 3:38 minutes feels a bit too chaotic when the two artists quote different Elvis songs, but this collaboration is truely special.
29. Let it Be (feat. Paul McCartney & Ringo Starr & Peter Frampton & Mick Fleetwood)
I don’t comment on that line-up. And I don’t say too much about this track. It was the absolute highlight of the single release campaign towards the Rockstar album. The importance of Dolly Parton is easily reflected by the fact that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr themselves record a new version of this amazing song. If you pick one song, you have to take this one.
30. Free Bird (feat. Ronnie Van Zant & Gary Rossington, Artimus Pyle and the Artimus Pyle Band)
How could something be even close to Let It Be when it comes to closing a rock album? Dolly wents for one of the most epic rock songs of all times. By the way, some credits simply say feat. Lynyrd Skynyrd here. They tried to do something new out of the 1973 original. But even fifty years later, the original feels to easily stands. Even though ‘Cause I’m as free as a bird nowAnd this bird you cannot change feel to be the perfect closing words.
Dolly Parton – Rockstar – Spotify
Here is Rockstar on Spotify:
Dolly Parton – Rockstar – My View
I feel that two main messages of the album work out well. The first one is: everyone in the world of music loves Dolly, even if he / she is doing very different music than country. The second one is: Dolly could also be a Rockstar. Some of the tracks of this album underline it. Unfortunaltey some songs, especially on the cover music side, just don’t work out. There is so much great material on this album to have a 15 or 18 song, 70 minute selection of tracks. Maybe pushing for something even bigger was a bit too much.
Favorite Song: Let It Be
Media Reviews (Music Legends)