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Show Me Your Roots (1/17/2003) Write to CD Shakedown
Dolly PartonDolly Parton, Halos and Horns (Sugar Hill 2002) - For the past several years, Dolly Parton has been getting back to her mountain roots. Halos and Horns, her third release on Sugar Hill Records, is the most rewarding to date.

I know I'm going to get hate mail, considering that Dolly won Grammy awards for her last two hillbilly albums, The Grass Is Blue (1999) and Little Sparrow (2001).

Dolly PartonYet Dolly has really hit her stride with Halos and Horns. Says the singer, "There was nothing heavy or hard about it. I just went in with the pickers and we all kicked ideas around. That's how you produce great records anyway - let talented people do what they do. It's fairly 'live' because I'm not the kind of singer who can start and stop and go back and get the same feeling."

Dolly works with a talented backing band, including Steve Turner, Ken Wells, Jimmy Mittingley, Richard Dennison, Gary Davis, Brent Truitt, Terry Eldredg, and Randy Kohr. Backing vocals are provided by The Kingdom Heirs.

Dolly PartonDon't kid yourself. Dolly's voice is a national treasure. A thing of beauty and grace and power. Comments Dolly, "Well, how that started was nobody was playing me on radio anymore. I ain't got no other choice.

Dolly continues. "I have to sing. I have to write...but I don't need to make a living out of it. I worked hard to have a career...I wouldn't change a thing, because I wouldn't be in a position to do this 'soul' music if I hadn't done the other. I had to get rich so I can be now what I always wanted to be as an artist."

Dolly PartonWith Halos and Horns, Dolly includes plenty of banjos and harmonicas and fiddles, yet also lets in some studio shine on tracks like "If" (the old David Gates/Bread song) and "I'm Gone," in which Dolly's voice shines through.

While Dolly keeps some sad Appalachian sentiments on songs like "Raven Dove" and "Not for Me" (a song she believes she penned when she first arrived in Nashville in 1964), there's plenty of big choruses, piano and even drums. Dolly takes a chance on "These Old Bones," in which she handles both parts on the "mother and daughter duet."

Dolly PartonAs long promised, Dolly also lays down a bluegrass version of "Stairway To Heaven" (the Led Zeppelin song), in which she finds the mystical in the lyrics. Says Dolly, "I have no idea how people are going to take it. I don't know if I'll get criticized. But you know what? It came straight from the heart. I love the freedom to do exactly what I feel right about."

Dolly also had to get clearance from Robert Plant and Jimmy Page to make changes. Says Robert Plant, "You know, the thing is that she's not wailing - she's keeping it within the genre, and she's a good singer. Maybe she didn't get the last bit properly, and maybe that's sort of how the idioms have changed so much, that maybe it doesn't matter - maybe that's the way to do it."

Dolly's the real thing. Halos & Horns is a delicious, endearing album. I hold her in the highest regard, for making the music that lives in her heart.

Stephen BrutonStephen Bruton, Spirit World (New West Records 2002) - Hail fellow well met. Stephen Bruton has been a sought after session hand for many years, including a 17-year, on-off stint as Kris Kristofferson's lead guitarist, as well as recording sessions and world tours as a member of Bonnie Raitt's band in the 90s.

Now, retired from the road and living in Austin, Texas, Bruton has releases his fourth solo project, Spirit World. The album is heavy on Texas singer/song writer influences, with plenty of good guitar work.

Stephen Bruton and Bonnie Raitt Bruton has played guitar in every kind of style, from acoustic to bluegrass to honky tonk to straight up rock and roll. "A good sideman is a hallowed thing," he says. "A guy who can serve the song behind the singer without ego, he is always going to have a job."

Bruton lets his rock and roll roots show on songs like "Acre of Snakes" (with its line "She wasn't really smiling/She's only showing me her teeth...Baby, you're as crazy as an acre of snakes"). But Bruton's much more into a storytelling sound, on songs like "Make That Call" and "Book of Dreams."

Stephen BrutonThe highlight of the album is "Just a Dream," about an old man facing death. Baked by the mournful horns of Jerry Peterson, "Just a Dream" is a very effective piece.

The album was recorded in Los Angeles and co-producer/guitarist Mark Goldenberg's home studio, Shabby Road, and mixed with Greg Ladanyi as primary engineer. Bruton's rhythm section of bass player Yoggie Musgrove and drummer Brannen Temple was augmented by Goldenberg and a crew of L.A. and Austin session players.

Stepehn BrutonGuitars Texas-style run throughout the album, sometimes jangly, sometimes swampy and moody. Says Bruton, "I think there's some pretty good guitar stuff on there, for people who like guitars. I just don't like the obligatory guitar solo. You have to say something."

Bruton's studio experience is evident throughout as Spirit World is a meticulous recording. Enjoy this serving from a pro.

- Randy Krbechek © 2003

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