When honky-tonk hero Merle Haggard found himself in the unlikely role of pop star, with the hits “Okie From Muskogee” and “The Fightin’ Side Of Me,” he wasted little time using his increased clout to pay his respects to idols like Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell – and to this day he has never strayed far from his roots. When Dolly Parton crossed over to popdom with such fluff as “Here You Come Again” and “Two Doors Down,” she quickly served up more pablum (a la “9 To 5”) and used her commercial muscle to make forgettable movies like Rhinestone and Best Little Whorehouse In Texas . It took her a little longer (okay, a lot longer) to cut the inevitable roots tribute, 1999’s The Grass Is Blue , but Dolly showed she could hold her own alongside bluegrass’ elite (including Sam Bush on mandolin, Bryan Sutton on guitar, and Jerry “Flux” Douglas on Dobro). And her childlike-but-powerhouse voice, cracking the air like a five-string banjo, proved the perfect match for standards by Lester Flatt and the Louvin Brothers. Only the most jaded critic would hold Parton’s extended Hollywood vacation against her.
Her follow-up, Little Sparrow , is, if anything, even better. The repertoire is broader, but nonetheless authentic, embracing Appalachian Mountain and Irish musics. Parton’s originals sit more comfortably here, and her voice has more opportunity to stretch out.
Steve Buckingham, who produced both CDs, deserves special recognition. Guesting on some tracks is the Irish band Altan, with return engagements from Sutton and Douglas – the latter proving himself indispensable. When Douglas hit the scene with Boone Creek and J.D. Crowe’s New South in the late ’70s, it was clear there was a new heir apparent to the legacies of Uncle Josh Graves and Brother Oswald Kirby, and soon the contemporary torch was passed from Mike Auldridge. These days, the only question is whether or not Douglas is the best Dobroist ever, or merely the best today.
On the high-spirited “Seven Bridges Road” Flux bounces his bar at a clip usually approached by only the fastest flatpickers (as in Watson or Rice), while on “Shine” he digs in with some wide, bluesy slides. The cut that seems to be getting the most notice is Dolly’s take on “I Get A Kick Out Of You.” And while she’s not likely to make Diana Krall lose any sleep, neither is her nice, swingy rendition going to make Cole Porter roll over in his grave. Likewise, Douglas proves he can handle a jazzy chord change or two. Cole Porter or “Coal Miner’s Daughter” – no problem for the likes of Flux.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s May ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.