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Dolly Parton’s “Pure And Simple” At Forest Hills Stadium, Saturday, June 25th, 2016, Reviewed

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There are ovations and then there are ovations, two thirds of the way through Dolly Parton’s “Pure And Simple” concert at Forest Hills last night, she discussed her movie career. Her leading men were Sylvester Stallone and Burt Reynolds, “I mean when they were in their prime” pause “I’m still in my prime”. That’s all it took, the place erupted in cheers and stomping, the stadium quite literally rattled, the floor beneath my feet shook, and they wouldn’t stop cheering. Dolly couldn’t stop them, and she tried to stop them. The audience were a mix of country fans, glam fans, gay priders, and suddenly we felt immortal. We were cheering for her, for her “first long tour in many many years” (60 dates!), for not surviving, we all survive until we don’t, but thriving. Endlessly, constantly, consistently, for all the uncertainty of 21st century living, we were good, we were in our prime. “I think every person should be proud of who they are,” she claimed early. “People should live in this world and just try and get along.”

Which is why it pains me to note that I was a little disappointed in Dolly’s performance last night. I admire her hillbilly mind your own business Pan-American, actually Pan-Universal, humanism. Her voice was incredible. On “Little Sparrow” her voice was as beautiful as I have ever heard it, and her performance made mincemeat of the claims she lip synced, she didn’t. In keeping with the “pure and simple” ethos, she had a three piece band behind her and a drum machine where Edward Huerta should be, and the arrangements were extremely clean and clever, with lots of room for the songs to breath, and especially when she played her dulcimer.

But.

The song selection wasn’t great, I miss those 70s pop albums,  and really, there was no short circuit TV (why? that is crazy, people are paying to see her as well as hear her) and  Dolly just talks and talks and talks and yeah, we get it but we know it. It isn’t that I didn’t like what she had to say, sometimes she was both insightful and funny, her story of poverty and deliverance, from the Hillbilly smokey mountains where she was born into a family of twelve children and sometimes didn’t have enough to eat, is moving but often told. “We had everything money can’t buy”, she claimed. Which is both sad and wonderful. In her hometime of Sevierville, Tennessee, there is a bronze statue of Dolly near the Courthouse and before he died, her daddy would drive down every night and clean it from the pigeon poop. What a wonderful story of familial pride, what a terrific vision of something so big, a father’s love, that encompasses an all giving world: her father did what he could to support his superstar daughter.

It is moving, but she told story after story after story, and it got too much. Dolly didn’t sing two songs in succession, she kept on talking. I don’t doubt her sincerity in theory, in practise, shut up about how much you love you and show us with your songs, meant to bring us closer to the material, it started to throw me out.The concert wasn’t stingy, in the middle of the first set she announced that later this year, the Complete Trio albums (including 20 songs never heard before) was being released; that’s the supergroup she made with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt in the late 80s. Two songs from the collaboration were highlights. Towards the end she performed some of her biggest hits, one after another (or, well, you get the picture), with “Islands In The Stream”, “9 To 5” and “I Will Always Love You”.

That was good indeed, and the spirituals were their equal, and Dolly wore her godheadness with ease, a terrific “Precious Memories” was just about ten times better than a medley of 60s covers late in the first set. With a stripped down for business band, Dolly had the opportunity to play not just the dulcimer, but the guitar and the fiddle, banjo, autoharp, piano and saxophone, and to sing with her band performing close harmony behind her. Always a way of singing her songs like they are stories between friends. There is something so sharing in Parton, it is alike a patented gentleness and inclusiveness. Everybody is welcome here. Her singing was sublime, pitch perfect, exquisite

But there is no way round it, come on Dolly shut up and sing or call it what it is, Ray Davies “X–Ray” by other means. She is in her prime, and may she be in her prime forever.

Grade: B+

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