Dolly Parton, like other country singers, is self-deprecating enough to allow herself to be turned into a caricature. But Dolly is a great artist. She is a master of those “ancient tones” that come out of mountain music, and she can also bring those same qualities into her contemporary song-writing. Last night, she was the rather unlikely singing coach and song provider for “American Idol,” which, one would think, would prove a tough challenge for these young, pop, rock-tinged singers.
But the test of the songwriter part of a singer-songwriter is that the songs also work when other people perform them. Bob Dylan, for example, has a totally unique voice and totally unique songs. And yet, when other people perform them–from the Byrds to Garth Brooks– they still work!
And Dolly Parton is the same way. The “Idols” did quite well with her songs, I thought, in some cases rendering them in non-country styles but the strength of the songs still came through. (I’m thinking particularly of David Cook’s alterna-arrangement of “Sparrow.” For a non-”Idol” example, listen to what Whitney Houston does with “I Will Always Love You.”)