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Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisThere are very few artists, if any, who could be just as comfortable covering Led Zeppelin as Tina Turner or singing a duet with Kenny Rogers and then giving a song to Whitney Houston. But that's exactly why Dolly Parton's one of a kind, not to mention the fact that her personality (and other familiar assets) are downright larger than life. Across a brand new, two-plus hour stop at Chicagoland's Rosemont Theatre, the country turned pop (and everything in between) diva dived into an amazingly diverse song list.
The initial point of business was to pepper in cuts from her new CD Better Day (Dolly Records), which marks her 41st overall studio project and first in three years. For starters, she mashed the '80s favorite "Walking On Sunshine" with the fresh "Shine Like the Sun," ushering in a theme of inspiration. The southern-stroked title cut and the equally cheery "Together You and I" suggested Parton's still able to craft a catchy song, even if the subject matter's become somewhat predictable at this point.
But when it came to covers, it was impossible to guess what the vibrant vocalist would spin into her own sound. From a harmony-heavy take on The Beatles "Help!," to a mandolin-stacked treatment of Collective Soul's "Shine" and a bluegrass side step on Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven," Parton showed off her versatility while making every one sound like her own. She even dived into the blue-eyed soul of Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man" and the gospel-induced fervor of Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep-Mountain High" with surprising gusto.
However, there were plenty of Parton's own hits to reaffirm her legendary history, many of which unveiled witty tales. "Jolene" was a wife's fiery ode to never letting another woman take her husband, "My Tennessee Mountain Home" talked about her small town upbringing, while "Coat of Many Colors" echoed a hopeful Biblical tale. Without Rogers, "Islands In the Stream" was a little less magnetic, but Parton more than made up for the missing star power on her individual working girl's anthem "9 To 5."
With tender-hearted encores of "I Will Always Love You" and "Light of a Clear Blue Morning" that capped off no less than 30 songs, the 65-year-old star once again demonstrated the entertaining abilities of someone half her age. She's encouraging, down to earth and downright hysterical at the same time, all the while possessing plenty of songwriting and showmanship smarts that don't just make her "The Queen of Country Music," but one of the most celebrated women in all of music history.
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