7:30 p.m. Aug. 13
DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston
Drag queens like to pretend they’re Dolly Parton. And who can blame them? But it’s Parton herself who plays up the glitzy, bright-pink, plastic (see cover) gal better than anything out of any gay nightclub. Just know: Beneath the doll-ish facade – the make-up, the fake eyelashes, the push-up bra – “where it counts, I’m real.”
On “Backwoods Barbie” (released earlier this year on her own Dolly Records), the Smoky Mountain songstress’ strong swing back into traditional twang, she’s more real than her 60-year-old face. The icon, who performs at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13 at DTE Energy Music Theatre, plays shrink on first single “Better Get to Livin’,” a jolly mantra urging us – and a weepy girlfriend of hers – to halt our whining and soak up every day; it epitomizes her seemingly always-bubbly aura. She acts as gospel choir leader on the spirit-upper “Jesus & Gravity,” which swells to a rousing string-laden crescendo, and is the album’s highlight. Then there’s the typical country stories: She’s the betrayed wife (“Made of Stone”), the no-shit-taking chick (“Shinola”) and the lonely ex-lover (“Only Dreamin’).
Cheesy, and to some, unintentionally hilarious, is her fiddle-laden cover of Fine Young Cannibals’ “She Drives Me Crazy,” which drops the pronoun – and any traces of ’80s synth-sounding pop. It’s the perfect pedestal for Parton’s caffeinated personality, and she scores enough hoot points to fill her cleavage with the toe-tappin’ hoedown finale: “I’m gonna hold you all night long, and I’m gonna love you ’til the cows come home.”
Parton wrote nine of the 12 tunes – almost all rooted in perk-up messages and heartbreak – and her keen attention to solid storytelling is what sticks (like her clever pun on “Better Get to Livin'”: “I’m not the Dalai Lama, but I’ll try to offer up a few words of advice”). Overproduction sometimes mars the uneven mainstream-geared set, which is an obvious vie for a country radio return that sadly – even with a spot as guest judge on “American Idol” – never materialized. But in our eyes, particularly those of fake-lashed drag queens, she’ll always be big.