February 2007

Dolly Parton - The Acoustic Collection 1999-2002
Sugar Hill SUG-CD-4008
Format: CD & DVD
Released: 2007

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality ****
Video Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

The Acoustic Collection 1999-2002, the four-disc box set of Dolly Parton’s extended adventure in bluegrass, consists of Parton’s 1999 The Grass Is Blue, her 2001 Little Sparrow, her 2002 Halos & Horns, and a bonus DVD named for the four-disc set. The DVD has four sections: Five New Song Mixes; Two Performances -- Kasey Chambbers and Sinead O’Connor; Three Dolly Parton Videos; and One Performance Video, with Norah Jones accompanying Parton on the title track of The Grass Is Blue.

The set’s main strengths -- the all-star bands and high-quality recording -- and its main weaknesses -- too-similar arrangements through 51 songs and Parton’s vocals mostly pushing each song’s main sentiment without much subtlety -- come from Parton’s professional roots in the commercial country music industry. Most of the recording was done in Nashville or nearby Knoxville. Good bluegrass, yes; very well recorded, yes; but without the range of variety or innovation that could be offered by the arrayed instruments and their talented players. The final CD might be groping for variety with "Stairway to Heaven" and Bread’s "If."

I find the first disc, which won the Best Bluegrass Album Grammy and Bluegrass Music Association Album of the Year, most consistently excellent, with Parton’s title song, the traditional "Silver Dagger," Hazel Dickens’ "A Few Old Memories," and Lester Flatt’s "I’m Gonna Sleep with One Eye Open" all sung and played exceptionally well. Little Sparrow is a fine album too. It contains Parton’s title song and her "Mountain Angel" and Steve Young’s "Seven Bridges Road."

If you’re a huge Dolly Parton fan, you’ll rave over this entire set. If you love bluegrass and want to sample Parton’s contribution, check out The Grass Is Blue instead.