The timeless allure of Dolly Parton

By Carly Snider, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 1, 2015

I have been listening to a lot of Dolly Parton lately and I don’t really know how to handle it. As someone who cringes at the first twang of anything resembling country music, this feeling is particularly surprising. Strange things are happening, and I’ve decided to go with it.

A few weeks ago, my mom, sister and I stumbled upon a Dolly Parton concert on TV. Catching the show just at the start, we were intrigued but planned to watch only a few songs before inevitably switching back to HGTV. Two-and-a-half hours later, we were watching the encore.

This performance took place at the Glastonbury Festival in England a year or so ago. Parton put on a great show, easily commanding the stage with high energy and flaunting her still-impressive pipes. (Not to mention being 69-years-old and rocking what can only be described as a jumpsuit made in sequin heaven.) Initially skeptical, I recognized more songs than I originally anticipated, including “I Will Always Love You” — which I had forgotten that Parton wrote — “Jolene” and “Islands in the Stream.”

What struck me most was the sheer number of young people present to see Dolly — someone who, I thought, was entirely off of my generation’s radar. Not only were they there, but they were loving it. Some even wore elaborate wigs mimicking Dolly’s signature blonde locks.

In a time when popular country music seems to be characterized by overly affected southern accents and lyrics consisting mainly of sunshine and beer, Parton’s more classical style is a refreshing change of pace. She keeps things simple, singing about working and fighting hard for who and what you love. Her roots seem to lie closer to some contemporary folk music, rather than the somewhat rock-influenced country of today.

My experience with Dolly has stuck with me. It led me to explore some of the other classic women of country – women like Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. Even in my brief listenings, I can’t help but notice the soul and swing of their music, both in the tone of voice and melodies. There is something inherently jazzy and honest about these women, especially with Cline. Hard work, strong self-identity and a don’t-mess-with-me attitude run throughout — all classic characteristics that southern-raised individuals value. Their sound is deconstructed and essentially unprocessed, more closely linking them to folk and alternative country.

This provides a stark contrast to the mainstream country genre of today. Long gone are the days when simple arrangements and acoustic guitars would suffice. This may explain my liking Dolly and Patsy, yet avoiding all things Florida Georgia Line – for the most part, I like things to be kept simple. There is something much more sincere to me about a stand-out voice, rather than a singer always backed by a heavily layered melody.

I know that I will never become a full-fledged country fan, but I have come to embrace the roots of the genre and its widespread influence. Who knows, maybe the mainstream millennials will come to appreciate the soulful simplicity of Patsy Cline just as I have.