Review: Good golly, Miss Dolly
A phenomenon – it's the only way of adequately describing Dolly Parton, the dirt-track diva whose show rolled into Belfast's Odyssey Arena for the third time in six years last night, en route to a headlining appearance at this summer's Glastonbury Festival.
The show was framed retrospectively, with photo-montages of Parton's many albums (42 and counting) back-projected as the band pumped out ceremonial entry music. Suddenly a spotlit Dolly materialised, svelte in a spangled turquoise party skirt and, from my vantage point in the stage-left terraces, apparently defying the basic laws of physics.
Parton is 68 now, but looks 20 years younger. Even those at the rear of the arena had a decent view of her spectacularly sculpted, eternally youthful features, magnified on a huge triptych of video screens as she elegantly worked the front of the Odyssey's broad platform.
Much of her material is by now anthemic, and the large audience sang along enthusiastically as Parton played the classic Jolene. There were roars of approval when she explained the song is about a woman who tried to steal her newly-wedded husband, and failed miserably. The Partons are 48 years married now – "about three of them spent together", she joked.
Parton's strong on family, and strong on religion too. Precious Memories was largely sung unaccompanied, with a simple, clapperboard country church projected behind her. Down-home Tennessee values and memories of Pentecostal revival meetings were explored further in a thoughtful medley of old-time religious numbers, with Parton accompanying herself on autoharp and dulcimer.
She likes talking too, and there were lengthy anecdotes about her preacher granddaddy, and a huge cheer when she mentioned her mother's handiness with thread and needle, prefacing Coat Of Many Colours.
There were songs too from the new album, title track Blue Smoke being one of the catchiest. Among the covers, there was an infectiously upbeat country take on Bob Dylan's Don't Think Twice, It's Alright, highlighting the still gleaming quality of Parton's upper register, and featuring a harmonica solo, ostensibly by Parton herself.
Above all it was Parton's extraordinary homeliness and approachability that the audience – many decked in pink cowboy hats and feathered Dolly boas – responded to. She was, as ever, a consummate entertainer. Those Glastonbury sophisticates have one heck of a feelgood evening coming.