Narendra Kusnur Writes About The Albums of Dolly Parton and Van Morrison

Narendra Kusnur Writes About The Albums of Dolly Parton and Van Morrison

One of this year’s most-awaited albums was Dolly Parton’s Rockstar, released on November 17

Narendra KusnurUpdated: Saturday, November 25, 2023, 10:37 PM IST
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One of this year’s most-awaited albums was Dolly Parton’s Rockstar, released on November 17. The special thing was that after earlier releasing 48 albums in her 56-year career, this was her first out-and-out rock album. Her previous releases focused on country music and related genres.

At 77, Parton displays admirable energy, recording nine original songs and 21 cover versions, including collaborations with some great musicians. There’s an interesting story behind Rockstar. When she was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame last year, she had refused, saying that she was a country artiste. Later, she said she would accept the honour only after beginning work on a proper rock album. She started with the original World On Fire, released as a single this May, and continued by teaming up with Ann Wilson of the group Heart to cover their song Magic Man.

Interestingly, Parton’s Rockstar is one of the three fantastic cover albums released in consecutive weeks this month. On November 3, legendary Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison put out Accentuate The Positive, containing his favourite rock n’ roll, rhythm n’ blues and country songs. On November 10, American vocalist Charlene Marie ‘Chan’ Marshall aka Cat Power released a collection of Bob Dylan covers, sticking to the set list of the great singer-songwriter’s famous 1966 Royal Albert Hall concert. Next, we have Parton, 70 per cent of whose album consists of covers.

Though the three albums cater to different fan groups, each is charming on its own. Let’s look at them individually.

For his part, Van Morrison has released his second cover album this year. In March, he had Moving On Skiffle, a collection of 23 songs belonging the genre of skiffle, popular in Britain in the 1950s, using doses of folk, jazz and blues. On the new album Accentuate The Positive, he delves into old-time American music but gives his own flavour. The album title is inspired by one of its songs, originally composed by Harold Arlen and written by Johnny Mercer in 1944.

For audiences in India, many songs from the Morrison album may be unfamiliar. Yet, he does some known ones like the country standard You Are My Sunshine, the Everly Brothers’ When Will I Be Loved?, Johnnie Kidd’s Shakin All Over, Little Richard’s Lucille and Big Joe Turner’s Shake Rattle & Roll. Each song has been fabulously rendered, with pianos, guitars, saxophones and trumpets galore. Though he’s 78, Morrison’s voice shows no signs of aging – it’s one of those miracles of nature.

In her album Cat Power Sings Dylan, the American retains the original flavour and tunes of the songs, but sings them in a more melodic way. Cat Power was born in 1972, six years after the Royal Albert Hall concert. Yet her renditions make one feel like she’s grown up on the classics, from She Belongs To Me, Desolation Row, Mr Tambourine Man, Ballad Of A Thin Man and Like A Rolling Stone. The brilliant Fourth Time Around and Visions Of Johanna are given a fresh, magical treatment. And her harmonica sounds like the great man is playing himself.

That brings us back to Parton’s Rockstar. The songs are a mix of popular anthems with new collaborators, hits featuring the original artistes and gems covered solo. In the first category, we have Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, where she’s joined by Lizzo and Sasha Flute, Bob Seger’s Night Moves featuring Chris Stapleton and the Stones classic I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, with Pink and Brandi Carlisle.

The guests include some artistes who’ve been on the original tunes. Sting appears on Every Breath You Take, Peter Frampton shows up on Baby I Love Your Way, the surviving members of Lynyrd Skynyrd join on Free Bird, and in a coup, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr grace Parton’s cover of the Beatles hit Let It Be. The solo attempts include Queen’s We Are The Champions/ We Will Rock You and absolutely stunning rendition of Prince’s Purple Rain. Dolly surely knows how to rock. Maybe she’d have done this earlier.

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