Dolly Parton talks about her new album Better Days, her drag queen fans, and her possible plans to take back the club
"Well, hi, Marke! This is Dolly calling you from Nashville. I hope you're doin' well out there in San Francisco."
Are you freaking kidding me? There are no better gifts for a little gay boy on Pride weekend than a call from Dolly Parton. After the squee-squee squealing subsided on my end, we got down to business: discussing what she was going to wear on the tour supporting her latest (41st!) album, Better Days on Dolly Records. Would she be pitching any wardrobe curve balls to throw off the legions of Dolly impersonators when she comes to the Concord Pavilion on Sunday, July 24?
"Now, I know you've seen me before," she laughed. "I couldn't really get much gaudier — unless maybe I walked out with a beaver on my head!"
Gaaaah, I adore her.
"You know, though, I love the drag queens," Dolly continued, "and all my gay fans, too. I've always loved all my fans equally. We just have so much fun together when I'm up on the stage. I always look forward to seeing what the impersonators are gonna wear. It cheers me right up."
Dolly has never been lachrymose, exactly, but she does have a famous way with homespun bluegrass melancholy — something that's put to use only sporadically on the new album. Instead, Better Days is meant to be a rootin', tootin' shot of inspiration in these dark economic times. Like Backwoods Barbie before it, it doesn't shy away from sharp power anthems and those unmistakable Dollyisms ("I'm quite content with who I am/And if you ain't, well, kiss my ham").
Now playing the honky-tonk preacher — rolling chords and gospel choir included — Dolly's determined to lift spirits. Her melodies here, including a sparkling solo redo of her great 1974 duet with Porter Wagoner, "Together You and I," are as infectious as always. And at points her bootstrap-tugging lyrical confidence almost crosses into televangelistic materialism or even classic gangsta rap territory (albeit with killer banjos), unabashedly boasting in "The Sacrifice" about how leaving family, friends, and fun behind has been worth it to be rich and famous. Get that skrilla, Dolly! Make it rain.
"That was an important song for me to write," Dolly said. "I get a lot of comments on it. But I wanted to be honest. If you want something bad enough, like I did, you need to have faith, work hard, and you can get it. You just need to be prepared to pay the price."
Some of Better Days' razzy boosts might help keep the ever-ambitious musician and businesswoman herself in a positive state of mind, especially now that she's navigating the current industry with her own label, launched in 2007.
"People may think I'm crazy to start my own thing like this now, but I love calling the shots and being able to release my own material. And to tell you the truth, there just aren't the big record contracts out there for established performers anymore — those multimillion-dollar deals are mostly for the young people on the rise. And this way, with Dolly Records, I can adapt faster to all the changes going on in the music business.
"I can also be a lot more flexible in what I do, try some new things," she continued, a mischievous spark lighting up her voice. "I'm even thinking about doing a dance record. I wrote this song just the other day called 'Just a Wee Bit Gay' that I think would go really well on the dance floor."
I told her that the extended version of her 1983 stomper "Potential New Boyfriend" has been ruling certain parties lately, and she sounded tickled. "I never thought that would be what everyone's into! I'll have to look into re-releasing that one."
"You know, I can't wait to get back to the Bay Area. The people are so warm and friendly," she concluded. "Now you just make sure to grab all your drag queen friends, fluff up that tutu of yours, and come down and see me, you hear?" Yes, ma'am!