Dolly Parton has gone back to her roots for her latest album, “Blue Smoke.”
First, there’s the title, reflecting the character of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee where she grew up.
And there’s the tone, which recalls the back-to-basics albums she released at the turn of the century — “The Grass is Blue” and its successor, “Little Sparrow.”
Those albums earned her the two most recent of her seven Grammy Awards.
“This album tends to have more of the bluegrass-country flavor,” she said. “We used all the bluegrass instruments. One of the reasons I called it ‘Blue Smoke’ is that it has a tinge of the bluegrass of the Smoky Mountains — a mountain music flavor. The ‘Blue Smoke’ song is about a heartbreak train called Blue Smoke.”
The album debuted higher on the charts than any of her albums to date, at No. 6 on the Billboard Top 200 and at No. 2 on the Billboard Country Albums chart. (She’s had 25 No. 1 country singles.)
“Blue Smoke” is built on a spirited shuffle rhythm, rootsy instrumentation including guitar, fiddle and dobro and a sing-along chorus with her message of departure to an unfaithful love: “It hurts to know you cheated and it hurts to know you lied / But it hurts me even worse to know you never even tried.”
The majority of the songs are her own, but she’s also recorded a sweetly reflective duet with old pal Kenny Rogers on “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” and she’s included her versions of Bon Jovi’s “Lay Your Hands on Me” and Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”
Of the Bon Jovi song, she said, “I kinda countrified it, the way I do. I did it with more of a gospel flavor and added some new words. When I first heard that, I thought, ‘Man, what a great title.’ It has a great feel, gospel sound and that message of ‘lay your hands on me’ for people who believe in prayer, it’s a good uplifting song. It’s going to be a nice tune for our concerts. And I did ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,’ which has always been a favorite of mine. That turned out very nice in a country-bluegrassy way.”
The album ends on almost a valedictory note with “Try,” a quintessential piece of Parton’s homespun philosophizing and empowerment that would become a key part of her music: “Secure yourself for climbing / Make ready for the flight / Don’t let your chance go by / You’ll make it if you try.”
The first leg of her U.S. tour began Thursday in Tulsa, Okla., and includes only a handful of shows in the Midwest and South before she’s off to Europe for much of the summer. More U.S. dates will be announced.