EmptyRadio City Music Hall, New York (Thursday, May 1)
By Frank Scheck
For a musical performer, a clearly defined persona can be just as important as talent, and after 50 years in show business, Dolly Parton possesses both in spades. Performing to an adoring sold-out crowd at Radio City, the country singer-songwriter displayed in equal parts her still-beautiful soprano voice and a knack for comic shtick that makes her seem like a modern-day Minnie Pearl.
With her trademark rhinestones given abundant display on everything from her form-fitting outfits to her musical instruments, Parton delivered an entertaining two-hour-plus show (including intermission) that included representative hits from her lengthy career and a generous sampling of songs from her strong new disc “Backwoods Barbie.”
Between numbers, she delivered a running self-parodying monologue with the expert timing of a stand-up comedian. “You know I need the money,” she said while thanking the audience. “It costs a lot to make someone look this cheap.” She also borrowed from Jeff Foxworthy with a series of one-liners playing off the title of the new album.
The well-paced evening featured all the songs people came to hear, from the vintage tracks (“Jolene,” “Coat of Many Colors”) to the huge-selling pop hits (“Here You Come Again,” “9 to 5,” “Islands in the Stream”) to such terrific new songs as the tender “Only Dreamin’ ” and the rousing “Better Get to Livin.’ ”
This clearly was a show designed for the mainstream, mainly lacking in the sort of pure bluegrass material that she has made her specialty of recent years. A token gospel segment featured unchallenging numbers like “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Parton, briefly accompanying herself on such instruments as piano, dulcimer and autoharp, was in fine vocal and physical form, showing no ill effects from the back problems that had delayed the onset of the tour.