October 2000

Dolly Parton - The Grass is Blue
Sugar Hill Records SUG-CD-3900
Released: 2000

by Neil Walker

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment *****

[Reviewed on CD]For me, the day the music died was the day Tammy Wynette died. However, there is one singer who could almost take her place in my personal country-music pantheon -- Dolly Parton. Parton has always had a great voice, capable of expressing emotion ranging from whispered vulnerability to proud assertion. And now, as a genuine bluegrass singer, Parton has moved several steps closer to the wellspring of country music. In so doing, she has the assistance of as fine a band of musicians as one can find in bluegrass these days.

The first 30 seconds of the album introduce us to Stuart Duncan and his fiddle. Is Stuart Duncan good? Does a violin have strings? Not only is he a virtuosic player, he has the kind of depth and warmth that brings classical violinist Nathan Milstein to mind. In addition, we have the ubiquitous Jerry Douglas on dobro -- his technique is astonishing and his playing has enough soul to make the dobro almost like a new, previously undreamed-of instrument. Bryan Sutton is a young guitarist who just issued his first album, and he carries on with a mastery of the Doc Watson tradition and a thoroughly modern understanding of his instrument and how bluegrass grows. Steve Buckingham on rhythm guitar (a 1941 Gibson Super 400, the notes tell us) and Barry Bales on bass lend a lot of vigor to push the band along its path. Finally, Sam Bush’s mandolin makes this world seem a little too small to hold a talent like his. Backup vocalists include Allison Kraus, Patty Loveless, Rhonda Vincent, Keith Little, Claire Lynch, Darrin Vincent.

This is a great album. If you have even the slightest doubt, try out just the first cut, Billy Joel’s "Travellin’ Prayer." Duncan’s fiddle intro and Parton’s "Hey Lord take a look around tonight and find out where my baby’s gonna be" will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. If they don’t, then you have lost the spirit -- but don’t worry, The Grass Is Blue is more than capable of lighting the way back to it for you.