Bluegrass Betty

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Little Sparrow bubbles over with the glorious mountain music we always knew Dolly Parton had inside, tucked underneath the tacky platinum wigs, rhinestone studs, glitter, neon and a cartoony theme park. Gorgeous fiddle, accordion, bouzouki, mandolin and guitar arrangements do-si-do with clog dancers, enthusiastic yee haws and the sincere ’n’ sweet country gal’s trademark trembling drawl.

But don’t take it from me. Parton said it herself when describing Little Sparrow (which features originals, traditional bluegrass songs and a few unexpected covers) and its Grammy-winning, all-acoustic predecessor, 1999’s The Grass Is Blue.

“This is the music I would have been doing all along if I could have made a living at it,” she says in the promo material.

But go ahead and imagine our world minus 9 to 5 and even that silly radio talk show movie she made. Admit it, you felt a connection to her been-there, don’t-give-a-shit-about-the-small-stuff brashness and big-hearted maternal demeanor. And come on, who couldn’t have fallen in love with her beauty shop character in Steel Magnolias?

It’s like denying Elvis ever left the Sun Sessions period.

Parton’s style draws to mind a friend from college who used to dance topless on the weekends to pay for classes. Besides the large cup size, there was such a straight-up Dolly honesty about her. Whenever we hung out, we’d do really girly things, like go bra shopping and talk about our crushes over Diet Cokes in the food court. I’ve never been on a diet. I didn’t wear a bra back then. Heck, I didn’t even shave my armpits. But for some reason there was such honesty in those day trips to the mall.

In “Marry Me,” Parton sings to every girl who ever had to win the respect of her boyfriend’s overprotective mother. She wrote it after hearing her young nieces putting their names together with the last names of the boys they liked and then reminiscing on when she used to do the very same thing.

“He’s always been a mamma’s boy / It’s just plain jealousy / She’s as mad as an old wet hen / cause he’s gonna marry me,” she says with the giggly floating stomach enthusiasm of a first love.

Other highlights include her countrified versions of Collective Soul’s “Shine,” Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You,” and her sensitive takes on “In the Sweet By and By” and Randy Sharp’s “A Tender Lie,” which also includes vocals by Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski. I always knew there was something special about this pretty Tennessee spitfire, even back in the early days defending her on the playground after the mean kids told the “Dolly can’t see her shoes” jokes. Pretty soon, everyone else’ll realize it too.

Melissa Giannini is the Metro Times staff music writer. E-mail her at mgiannini@metrotimes.com.

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