Last Night: Dolly Parton At Verizon Wireless Theater

Dolly Parton Verizon Wireless Theater October 11, 2011

Dolly Parton seems like the kind of person so determined to make sure her audience has a good time, she's not above putting them to the thumbscrews to make sure that happens. Luckily, it didn't come to that Tuesday at a near sold-out Verizon Wireless Theater.

Parton (re)introduced herself to the adoring crowd by saying that she loves playing in Texas because every movie she's been in -- or close enough -- her character has been from the Lone Star State. And her two-hour-plus set was a lot like Texas weather: Don't like it, stick around a few minutes and it'll change.

So if the uptempo gospel-pop of "He's Everything" might have made some of the less spiritually inclined on hand squirm, the almost a cappella Smoky Mountain harmonies of "Precious Memories" could have made believers out of them. They should have, for sure.

If her latest bid for country chart success, the glossy take-a-hand tune "Together You and I," didn't quite work, there was always past triumphs "Jolene" and "Here You Come Again," which most assuredly did. "Holding Everything," a duet with producer/bandleader Kent Wells, may be the real hit off her latest album, Better Day, anyway.

Even Dolly acknowledged that her version of "Stairway to Heaven" -- presented in abbreviated bluegrass form Tuesday, with several verses lopped off -- may have been better left in the hands of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, et. al. It's her husband's favorite song, she said, but when he heard her version, he wondered if it should have been called "Stairwell to Hell" instead. It wasn't that bad, but her takes on both the Beatles' "Help!" and Collective Soul's "Shine" survived the classic/modern-rock-to-bluegrass transition much, much better.

Dolly never took off that coat of many colors she put on all those many years ago -- neither she nor Aftermath would be foolish enough to reveal how many -- and her chameleonic nature is key to her considerable charm. And although her covers of "River Deep, Mountain High" and "Son of a Preacher Man" were nothing to sneeze at, the best parts of Tuesday's show weren't when she was putting on Tina Turner or Dusty Springfield's heels, but dipping into her own history.

That started with honoring her mother on "Coat of Many Colors." Equally affecting, if not more, was her tribute to her dad on an "Smoky Mountain Memories," presented as a stock-still Celtic ballad with her drummer's solemn taps on a bodhran and Parton's own high-lonesome tin-whistle melody. Likewise, you could have heard a feather drop during "Little Sparrow," her warning to all the "tender young maidens" out there, and a rip-snorting "Muleskinner Blues" had everything but the cruel crack of the driver's lash.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray