by Ben Childers
After months of anticipation, Dolly’s forty-ninth solo (and sixty-sixth overall) studio album Rockstar has finally arrived! I was a little apprehensive from the beginning about this project because I didn’t know if Dolly could pull off a full-length rock album without it seeming too gimmicky. My reservations about the album grew when she announced the length of the record (30 tracks!!), but my worries were put to rest with the release of the first single, “World on Fire”, and upon hearing the full record I was absolutely blown away! Dolly sounds fantastic throughout and the production of the record is superb. The musicians absolutely killed it. I could not be more proud that she is still pushing boundaries and taking her career and artistry in new directions. Who else but Dolly could assemble the roster of guest artists on this project? This is a real rock ’n’ roll album! She’s a rockstar now!
The album opens with a Dolly original titled “Rockstar”, of course. The song features a spoken introduction where a young musician is told by her father to stop practicing her electric guitar because it’s too noisy. This leads into a rockin’ tune about dreaming of growing up to be a rockstar, with a special guest appearance by Richie Sambora. It’s an exhilarating opening that sets the stage for the songs and guests to follow. Track 2 is lead single “World on Fire”. This song sees Dolly being the most outspoken she has ever been about her views. This track was a great introduction to the album and gave Dolly a chance to speak up about politics and religion in a way she usually doesn’t. Track 3 is a cover of “Every Breath You Take” by The Police. Dolly is joined on this track by the band’s lead singer Sting. It’s pretty true to the original version, but Dolly makes the song her own. It’s one of the strongest covers on the album. This is followed by Journey’s “Open Arms” featuring Journey frontman Steve Perry on what can only be described as possibly the most moving cut on the record. Upon my first listen, I was completely sold on the project when I heard this track. Track 5 is Heart’s “Magic Man” featuring the band’s lead singer, Ann Wilson. While it stays pretty faithful to the original, it’s a really fun cover. Next up is Creedence Clearwater Band’s “Long as I Can See the Light” with the song’s composer and the band’s founder John Fogerty. The soulful track includes some great saxophone by Mark Douthit. Track 7 is another Dolly original titled “Either Or”, featuring Kid Rock. While all the covers are great, Dolly really shines on the original songs and this one is no exception. Steven Tyler guests on the next Dolly original, “I Want You Back”, which Dolly explained was written with him in mind to sing it with her. Stevie Nicks is featured on the next track, “What Has Rock and Roll Ever Done for You”, a fun song Nicks had written and recorded back in 1985 for her Rock a Little album, although it didn’t make the final track listing. Track 10 is a Dolly solo performance (a rarity on this record) on Prince’s “Purple Rain”. Dolly turns it up all the way up to 11 here, giving a phenomenal delivery of this classic song. Track 11 is a cover of “Baby, I Love Your Way” featuring the song’s originator and writer Peter Frampton. Up next is a fun cover of “I Hate Myself for Loving You” with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Track 13 is a cover of Bob Segar’s “Night Moves” featuring Chris Stapleton. It is an album highlight, although it sounds a little more country than the rest of the album, but still rock enough to not sound out of place. Next up Dolly covers goddaughter Miley Cyrus’ 2014 hit “Wrecking Ball” featuring a guest appearance from Miley. I love the way they incorporated bits of “I Will Always Love You” into their cover. Disc one closes with a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” featuring P!nk and Brandi Carlile.
Disc two begins with a cover of the REO Speedwagon song “Keep On Loving You” featuring the band’s lead singer Kevin Cronin. This one has become one of my favorites on repeat listens of the album. Up next is a cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” featuring Debbie Harry. I was really excited for this one, bit I ended up feeling like it was a misstep. I wasn’t a fan of Dolly or Debbie’s vocals on this one. A fantastic cover of Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” follows, featuring Elton himself. A studio duet between Dolly and Elton was long overdue. “Tried to Rock and Roll Me” is another Dolly original. This time she teams up with Melissa Etheridge and the results are perfection. Track 20 is Dolly’s second cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”. She first recorded a bluegrass cover form her 2002 album Halos & Horns (which might be my favorite Dolly cover ever). This time she recorded the song in its original lyrical and musical form with assistance from Lizzo on flute (Sasha Flute). This recording in amazing and Dolly’s high notes at the end are some of the highest of her career. Track 21 is a cover of Queen’s “We Are the Champions / We Will Rock You”. This cover just falls flat for me, but I’ve never particularly liked “Champions”. Up next is another Dolly original, “Bygones” featuring Rob Halford. Track 23 is a cover of Dolly’s own “My Blue Tears”, which originated on her 1971 album Coat of Many Colors. While I love this song, it is one of the few missteps on the album. Even with a “rock” arrangement it still sounds too Appalachian and bluegrass. It’s a great recording, it just doesn’t fit the theme of the album. This is followed by a cover of the 4 Non Blondes song “What’s Up?” featuring the song’s writer and the band's lead singer Linda Perry. This song and its music video are perfection. I’d love for Dolly to do a whole album with this sound. Track 25 is a tribute to Linda Ronstadt on a cover of her hit “You’re No Good”. Dolly is joined here by Emmylou Harris and Sheryl Crow to form a “new Trio.” It’s a great tribute and a sweet way to include Linda on this project. I wish Linda was in better health and still able to sing so she could’ve been a part of this album. Pat Benatar joins Dolly for a cover of “Heartbreaker”. This cover is again very true to the original, but it is so much fun. “Bittersweet” is up next. A Dolly original, this time she is joined by Michael McDonald. Track 28 is “I Dreamed About Elvis” featuring Ronnie McDowell as the King, a track Dolly originally announced and performed live back in 2004. While I am glad to have this track after all these years, it is another small misstep on the record. Its sound is more 1950s rock and it just doesn’t fit well with the rest of the album. Track 29 might be the greatest achievement on the album, a mini Beatles reunion on “Let It Be”. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr join Dolly here for a perfect rendition of the iconic Beatles classic. The album closes with a great cover of “Freebird” featuring Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The HSN Limited Edition of the album comes with three bonus tracks, all Dolly solo performances. “Mama Never Said” is a fun Dolly original about things Mama taught her and things she didn’t. The second bonus track is a cover of “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”, and while it is a good attempt at the song, it’s the only track on the album for me that seems to veer into karaoke territory, so I can see why it was relegated to bonus track status. The final HSN bonus track is “Rockin’ It”, which is the song Dolly wrote for and performed at her Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction last year. The track listing says the track is “live”, but it’s not the Hall of Fame induction ceremony performance. It appears to be a studio recording of the song with audience applause overdubbed onto it. No complaints here though, I’ve wanted a studio recording of the song since Dolly first performed it.
The UT Limited Edition included a live performance of “Rocky Top”. While I had hoped for a new recording of this song, it is taken from Dolly’s 2004 live album Live and Well.
Dolly set out to make a rock album to “earn” her spot in the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and she has more than done that. At almost 78 years old, who else is still putting out some of the best work of their career while also pursuing new endeavors every day? Some of the critics haven’t been kind toward the album, but they either don’t understand it or are looking at it from the wrong point of view. Dolly isn’t trying to break new ground in the rock genre, her intentions were to honor the genre and show her appreciation for being inducted into the Hall of Fame, while also getting to perform with as many rock legends as possible. To the musicians, producers, photographers, and Dolly, we give a huge round of applause and a standing ovation. You did it, Dolly. You’re a rockstar now!
Ben Childers is the administrator of The Dolly Parton Discography. A native of Tupelo, Mississippi, he grew up taking family vacations to the Smokies and Dollywood. His love for Dolly and her music reached a fanatical level in April 2013. After spending countless hours researching and cataloging Dolly's musical output, he decided to open a website dedicated to her discography.