Few women in Country music have navigated the great rhinestone highway from “girl singer” to entertainer like Dolly Parton. There have been notable exceptions like Barbara Mandrell, Reba McEntire and, most recently, Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks. But Dolly paved the way.
Filmed in Dollywood’s Celebrity Theater at the end of 2002’s Halos and Horns tour, Live and Well finds Parton just so. Her famous curves leap in time to the stellar, lively opening of “Orange Blossom Special/Train Train.” Still, she loves to quickly “Bring ya’ down”—with the gorgeous “The Grass is Blue” and haunting “Mountain Angel”—from her calmer forays into bluegrass.
The brief pop crossover is here, too. “9 to 5” resonates most with the audience, while the a cappella medley including “Islands In the Stream,” “Here You Come Again,” and “Two Doors Down” would make any soul group proud. The real highlight, though, is seeing Parton add some mountain soul to a few classic-rock songs. She brings an ethereal quality to Neil Young’s “After the Goldrush” and turns Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” into a raise-the-rafters gospel shout. She truly climbs the pinnacle of spiritual bliss, however, by whipping everyone into a frenzy for her Grammy-winning version of Collective Soul’s “Shine.”
In a live setting, Dolly Parton the artist rarely upstages Dolly Parton the personality—charming her audience with giggles and jokes both between and during songs. Acknowledging perhaps the most diverse audience in Country, she honors “the guys” by changing the lyrics of “Jolene” to “Your smile is like a breath of Spring / Your voice is soft like summer rain / Well, I cannot compete with you drag queens.”
Parton honed her attention to specific fans during the Halos tour, which played smaller club venues. Live’s larger production, unfortunately, loses much of that intimacy, but the shtick and rhinestones shine bright regardless. And, 40 years into her career, so does that unmistakable Appalachian voice.