Last year, Dolly Parton was formally inducted into the hallowed Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. While this is a huge honor, Parton felt she was undeserving of the nomination. In her own words, she told Rolling Stone she felt as if she was “betraying somebody else” with her nomination.
The reason for Parton’s hesitancy to accept her nomination was the lack of a rock album in her discography. While many non-rock artists have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Parton’s incredible humility stopped her from feeling like she should be held in the same esteem as Ozzy Osbourne and Guns N’ Roses.
She was, of course, still inducted. So what’s a girl to do? For Parton, it was release an amazing rock album.
“Rockstar,” which dropped on Nov. 17 (a little over a year after Parton’s induction) is a glamorous, indulgent thank you to the rock music scene. Almost all of the album is covers, and she collaborated with big-name musicians like Ann Wilson of Heart, Rob Halford of Judas Priest and Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac.
Her distinct country drawl, while naysayers may dislike her performance of some of the traditional rock tracks, is an incredibly fun take on rock classics. Parton also elected to stay true to the songs she covered; most of the instrumental pieces sound near-identical to their source material.
Parton took a very careful, almost preservationist touch to the covers she performed for “Rockstar.” It makes listeners feel like they have been transferred to a karaoke bar where Parton made a surprise appearance, something that would be a dream come true for many audience members.
On the songs where Parton is singing solo, she steals the show. Her cover of “Purple Rain is a particular example on the record. Additionally, “World On Fire” – one of her original tracks – shows her ability to write heavy material.
“World On Fire” and her collaboration with Rob Halford on “Bygones” are her standout original tracks. On “World On Fire,” Parton wades into political issues, singing, “Don't get me started on politics / Now how are we to live in a world like this / Greedy politicians, present and past / They wouldn't know the truth if it bit 'em in the a**.”
On “Bygones,” she shrieks with the legendary Judas Priest vocalist about a lost relationship, singing in the chorus together "I'm sorry, so sorry / How long must you punish me? / Why can't we just move on? / Let bygones be bygones / But you never will.”
The title track of the album is also a really enjoyable way to start. Hearing Parton sing “I’m a rockstar” so ferociously after playing an audio clip of people telling her she doesn’t belong in rock music is a raging response to the people who said she didn’t belong in the genre. Her traditional country warble on a feelgood rock anthem is something everyone should hear.
“Bygones” is a significant collaboration on the album and there are numerous other songs with incredible featured artists. “Wrecking Ball” performed with Miley Cyrus and “Open Arms” with Journey’s Steve Perry both highlight Parton’s talent to bring together voices and have fun with definitive songs of their time.
Parton also teamed up with Melissa Etheridge for the folk-rock tune “Tried To Rock and Roll Me,” which is closer to Parton’s usual genre but still touches the rock elements Parton was going for on “Rockstar.” It is very clear that Parton loved this recording with Etheridge, and you can hear how much fun they were having together in the studio.
One part of the album that stands out is Parton’s collaboration with Kid Rock on the song “Either Or.” Parton has made her political stance on LGBTQIA+ individuals, Black Lives Matter and poverty issues very clear, and they often clash with Kid Rock’s. Despite potential friendship, it could be surprising to include a controversial artist like him.
The album doesn’t have a lot of substance to it, but at the same time, it’s Parton’s 49th studio album. She has established a musical and business empire, and if she wants to make a rock album she will. While it isn’t a super serious or Grammy-winning album, it is a very fun foray into a new style for country music’s most iconic lady.