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Dolly's Little Sparrow Flies High

Dolly Parton - Little Sparrow
(Sugar Hill Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: April 6, 2001

By Tony Bonyata

Leaving her cookie-cut, over-produced "9 to 5" job behind her, country songbird Dolly Parton has recently released her latest album Little Sparrow, a shining follow-up to her wonderful 'return to roots' album The Grass Is Blue.
Like it's predecessor Little Sparrow is a rich collection of authentic bluegrass music that reminds us of what country music was like before all the watered-down, achy breaky pop / country tripe and pretentious, over-the-top Garthian pyrotechnics. Dolly's album is filled with a simple, honest music that has more in common with bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe than with, not only, modern country, but her own pop crossover sell-out of the '70s and '80s.
Dolly Parton Although this album features both classic and modern covers that are familiar to young and old, Dolly and her porch-full of multi-talented bluegrass studio musicians transform them into something altogether new and refreshing. "Teach me how to speak, Teach me how to share. Teach me where to go and tell me will love be there?" she pleads on a more rustic, gutsy take of Collective Soul's "Shine." On Cole Porter's "I Get A Kick Out Of You" there's a gypsy-jazzed guitar, in the Django Reinhardt style, that do-si-dos with a reeling fiddle as Dolly's effervescent voice swoons "I get no kick from champagne, mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all. So tell me why should it be true - that I get a kick out of you."
And while the covers are brilliant, her strongest material on the album are actually her self-penned numbers. The title track, with it's comforting mandolin and spirit lifting fiddle, is a deep felt song that she wrote about herself. As Dolly explained it "I thought it represented me (being little) and my Daddy used to call me his little songbird. I also used to be called The Smoky Mountain Songbird. I thought Little Sparrow represented who I am and what I do - being fragile, but also 'flies so high and feels so much pain'." The backwoods sound of bluegrass strings provides the perfect backdrop for her warm motherly voice on "Mountain Angel, " while the dancing banjo, mandolin, guitar and fiddle kick up their heels around Dolly's raucous jig "Marry Me." Although she wrote "My Blue Tears" many years ago, and has recorded it herself numerous times, she 'nails it' on this raw, honest take, which actually has the feel of an old folk ballad.
For those who only think of Dolly as big hair, big boobs and big personality, there is no better time to get introduced to her new traditional mountain music.

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