Dolly Parton
Halos & Horns Reviews

Nashville Skyline/CMT:

By Chet Flippo
July 3, 2002

"Let Us Now Praise Dolly Parton"

With such quasi-mystical songs as "Down From Dover" and "Joshua," and her gorgeous autobiographical classics such as "Coat of Many Colors," Dolly Parton the songwriter has sometimes been overshadowed by Dolly Parton the flamboyant performer and public persona.  But make no mistake about it: this lady is one of the premier songwriters in the music pantheon.

And her songwriting stardust is all over her new album, Halos & Horns.  Dolly, bless her heart, covers two of her favorite pop and rock songs here, Bread's sticky "If" and the Led Zeppelin anthem "Stairway to Heaven," with good results.  But the real meat of Halos & Horns is her new compositions.

Oddly, until her last two albums (the mountain music CDs The Grass Is Blue and Little Sparrow), she was never really considered an album artist.  After 1975's superb, rootsy My Tennessee Mountain Home, Parton's country albums were mainly collections of mismatched songs or endless greatest hits releases.  Then she succumbed to the lure of pop music, with the result being years of uneven music.

Now, with her third roots album in a row, Parton has firmly re-established herself as a major country artist.  Her original music — aptly dubbed "blue mountain music" — fits her like one of her skin-tight minidresses.  Her new songs here are a glimpse inside the fervid Parton imagination, a wonderful Parton mix of fairy tales, stories of leaving, ethereal and evocative dirges about broken hearts, visions of apocalypse and rapture, a personal plea to God, childhood memories and vivid mountain folk tales.  Backed by a tight group of bluegrass musicians, the Blue-niques, Parton sounds very much at home with a clutch of 14 songs close to her heart.

"Stay out of my closet if your own's full of trash" she sings in "Shattered Image," a song that pointedly takes aim at those who over the years have speculated and publicly gossiped about Parton's private life.  The title song finds Parton returning to a favorite theme — that of the duality of human nature, of the struggle between good and evil.

"These Old Bones" strikes me as an instant classic.  At almost six minutes, it's a mini-epic about a mountain witchy-woman who can divine the future, with Parton alternating as the witchy-woman and as narrator.  The tale takes many turns and is just itching to be a movie.  Similarly, "John Daniel" is a five-minute-plus saga about an itinerant holy man who appears in a mountain town.

With Halos & Horns and Little Sparrow and The Grass Is Blue, Parton has re-introduced country audiences to the lush world of the mountain music and folk tales of East Tennessee, a world earlier populated by the likes of the Carter Family, Roy Acuff and the Louvin Brothers.  And she reminds the world that like other older artists discarded by Nashville's major record labels as irrelevant — Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris are some names that come to mind — she continues to make country music that is fresh and vibrant and very much alive.  In one of my early interviews with Parton for Rolling Stone, she told me that she felt she was a "brave little soldier" and was unafraid in tackling new musical ventures.  Obviously, she's still being a brave little soldier.


Billboard:

July 6, 2002

Dolly Parton is right now making some of the absolute best, boldest music of her career, adopting a back-to-basics approach that has led her back to her East Tennessee roots, and hence her muse.  Parton's angelic voice and beauty historically may have overshadowed her potency as a lyricist, but she's a fine, spiritual writer, as evidenced by the back-porch eloquence of the title cut, the sexy "Sugar Hill," and beautific "Raven Dove."  Parton has also become quite the fearless interpreter, wrapping her one-of-a-kind vocal instrument on whatever the hell moves her.  Here, it's a breathy, slow-rollin' improvement on Bread's "If," and, better yet, an inspired, breathtaking turn on Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."  Who else could pull that off?  Imparted like a shared secret, this record fully explores the dichotomy its title hints at, but more than that, this is a showcase of a hugely important American artist at full power.


USA Today:

By Brian Mansfield
July 9, 2002

3 out of 4 stars

Parton brings the bluegrass of her two previous albums full circle here.  Aside from the acoustic arrangements, Halos & Horns sounds more like her latter-day country-pop albums, with an unusual mixture of covers (Bread's If, Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven) and original songs that date back to her teen years.  Parton's Stairway makes explicit the song's veiled spirituality by rewriting the final section and adding a gospel choir.  Its apparent oddity will grab most of the attention, but the supernatural themes of songs like Hello God and These Old Bones provide a context in which it's a perfect fit.


All Music Guide:

By Hal Horowitz

More angelic than devilish, Halos and Horns, the third in a series of back-to-the-roots styled acoustic albums the legendary country singer recorded for Sugar Hill label, again boasts superior musicianship and a loose but not necessarily low-key style.  A mix of new songs, rerecorded obscurities Parton felt deserved another chance ("What a Heartache" got lost on the soundtrack to Rhinestone, "Shattered Image" is a little-known gem from 1976's All I Can Do album, and an unrecorded oldie "John Daniel" goes back nearly 35 years), and high-profile covers of Bread's "If" and Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" find the singer/songwriter is in excellent voice and exuberant spirits.  Some of the new compositions, such as the ballad "If Only" (written for a movie about Mae West Parton was making when recording this album, but deemed too sad for the soundtrack) and the stirring "Raven Dove," with a full gospel backing, are nearly the equal of the singer's best work.  The jaunty tempo but sorrowful lyrics of "Dagger Through the Heart" is classic bluegrass complete with banjo and fiddle and an example of Parton at her finest.  Not everything works; "These Old Bones," a winding story-song marred by Parton taking the voice of an old woman on the chorus, is sappy if well intentioned, and her version of "If" remains a bit smarmy, even torn down to its acoustic roots.  But her take on an album-closing "Stairway to Heaven" (given the thumbs up from no lesser experts than Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, who had to approve Parton's slightly altered lyrics) smartly and successfully refashions the song's dense themes into a contemporary gospel ode which retains the mystery of the original even as it is rearranged for this project's folk/bluegrass direction.  Stirring, unpretentious yet powerful, Halos & Horns effectively continues Parton's glorifying of her mountain roots.  She subsequently launched her first tour in a decade after this disc's 2002 release.


Amazon.com:

By Alanna Nash

Like many musicians profoundly moved by the events of September 11, Dolly Parton reacted to the tragedy by going inward and forging a spiritual journey through songwriting.  As usual, the subjects from which she draws the greatest strength are the ones that have buoyed her throughout her career—the Deity, to whom she talks directly in the searching "Hello, God," and the mythology of the mountains, best exemplified in "These Old Bones," a fascinating piece of backwoods lore.  Yet the songs on Halos & Horns carry a subtext, too, that of the perpetual struggle between right and wrong, temptation and redemption, and heaven and hell.  Longtime Parton fans will recognize that thematic tug from her earliest work, just as they will hear a return to her more primitive, pre-'80s sound.  While the singer, who produced the record herself using both Nashville and East Tennessee musicians, reprises several tunes ("Shattered Image," "What a Heartache") from her catalog to give them an acoustic, bluegrassy treatment, she is not without her surprises.  Chief among them: "Raven Dove," a powerful, almost biblical prophesy of a Second Coming, and a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," which Parton slightly rewrote to give it more personal and apocalyptic verve.  If the thought of that brings a smile to your face, just wait: one spin through it, and you'll be down on your knees.


Knoxville News-Sentinel:

By Wayne Bledsoe
July 7, 2002

Parton rediscovers her natural sound with 'Halos & Horns'

It's been great to follow Dolly Parton for the last few years.

After Nashville had written her off as one of the old guard, she dove into acoustic music and bluegrass.  As a result, Parton hasn't sounded so natural since the days when she was creating the classics "Jolene" and "Coat of Many Colors."

While "Halos & Horns" may have been created with a theme, it comes off as less self-conscious than Parton's last two albums - both of which had a determinedly acoustic/bluegrass feel to them.  Sure, the pedal steel and electric guitars are still absent while mandolins and dobros sparkle throughout, but "Halos & Horns" has more of the feel of the performer's early 1970s albums.

Parton, who produced herself at Knoxville's BPM recording studio, has gathered a selection of new songs, revisits some vintage numbers and even covers Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."

This is an artist who is unapologetically following her own vision.  Some might think that Parton covering "Stairway" would be foolhardy or simply a gimmick, but she nails the number; by the end of the track, it sounds like the song must have been originally written to be performed on banjos and mandolins.

She is relaxed enough to include the yarn "These Old Bones," in which an aging psychic reveals her secrets and sings half of the song in character.  Parton is one of the few singers who can pull it off.

Twelve of the 14 songs on the disc are Parton originals.

The new numbers are good additions to the singer's canon and fall into familiar categories: "I'm Gone" is a catchy "not-gonna-take-it-anymore" number; "Sugar Hill" (inspired by the name of record company that Parton is now signed to) is a happy coming-of-age reminiscence; and "Dagger Through the Heart" is a sad tale of a woman with a cheating husband.

The performance of "Dagger" stands apart, though, with some of Parton's best vocal work and the excellent and intuitive musicianship of her band - most notably banjoist Gary Davis and mandolinist Brent Truitt.

Vintage Parton compositions make up the other highlights: "Not for Me," a previously unrecorded song from the early 1960s, is despairing and beautiful.  "Shattered Image," which Parton first recorded in 1976, is one of the best responses to tabloid journalism ever penned.

There are a few moments that detract, including "Hello God," a simple song weighted down by its accompanying choir, and "Raven Dove," which seems misplaced, bookended by stronger numbers.

However, overall, "Halos & Horns" is another one for the angels.  Grade: A-


The Guardian:

By Adam Sweeting
July 5, 2002

4 out of 5 stars

Since 1998, Dolly Parton has been enjoying a formidable creative streak, collecting a string of Grammys along the way.  She puts it down to the fact that country radio stations stopped playing her records, which piqued her to take remedial action.  Halos and Horns is another fine addition to the latterday Parton catalogue.  It is rooted in the bluegrass music she grew up on in Tennessee, and is lit with powerful emotions, impeccable acoustic musicianship and close-harmony singing that JS Bach wouldn't look down his nose at.  Lesser practitioners can turn bluegrass into drab musicology, but it comes so easily to Parton that it is rarely less than a joy, even when she is singing Holy-roller stuff such as Hello God.  The slow ones are great, the fast ones are superb, and her version of Stairway to Heaven is so audacious you have to laugh out loud.


In Music We Trust:

By Alex Steininger

Dolly Parton's Halos & Horns is a warm, good natured country record with strong songwriting.  The work of a talented voice hitting her stride and creating one of the best albums of her career, one that is heavily rooted in real Americana and old-time country music, but isn't afraid to go along with the times, sounding equally modern and fresh.

Parton's body of work is unquestionably strong, and with a prolific history as big as her own, sometimes, as a songwriter, you get caught up in the past, relying on previous accomplishments to carry your most recent release.

Parton avoids this, allowing the songs to carry themselves, with each one a strong collection of fine instrumentation, beautiful lyrics, and Parton's country gal soul running through every song, owing as much to bluegrass as it does to its country sound.

Well worn, the songs have traveled the roads they talk about.  They're full of life (as is Parton), and sound refreshing, especially considering so many country imitators these days using the money of Nashville to produce slick, soul-less, heartless dribble.  Parton's Halos & Horns is one of the finest country releases this year.  I'll give it an A.


CDNOW:

By Drew Wheeler

Dolly Parton's series of career-revitalizing albums for Sugar Hill Records continues on its thoughtfully composed and sensitively performed trajectory, with this new, self-produced program of original compositions and unexpected covers.

As its title might suggest, Parton finds herself pursuing more spiritual themes on this collection, some of which was penned after the national trauma of 9/11.  Parton matches her hushed vibrato to an exultant backing chorus on the devotional "Raven Dove," and she takes a more old-timey country-gospel approach with "Hello God." (On the mountain-styled title track, she reflects on the struggle between sin and righteousness.)

Other recently-penned originals include the strong, understated "Not for Me," in which her voice flutters in a breathy hush; the locomotive-tempoed "I'm Gone," a banjo-spurred declaration of independence; and the torchy "If Only," that lets her vocals alternate harrowingly between a whisper and a wail.  (The album also includes her '70s-era mountain-blues number "Shattered Image" and her '90s-era meditative beauty "What a Heartache," dramatically recorded on a droning cushion of acoustic sounds.)

Perhaps the album's greatest surprise is Parton's version of Led Zeppelin's classic rock standard "Stairway to Heaven" — which she remakes in a lovely mesh of guitar, Dobro, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and bass.  The backing chorus is put to clever use, and Parton adds a bit of tuneful, anti-materialistic cant at the end that makes the song her own.  (She also includes a delightfully reedy, cheerily countrified remake of "If," the pleasant '70s hit by Bread.)

Halos & Horns may be Dolly Parton's expression of a spiritual dichotomy, but fans of both Parton and refreshing acoustic roots music should find the album unambiguously divine.

Rolling Stone:

By Steve Knopper
July 8, 2002

Joke all you want about how Dolly Parton missed the "No Stairway" sign on the wall.  On a CD-closing version of "Stairway to Heaven," the fifty-six-year-old country superstar remembers Led Zeppelin's burned-out rock-radio classic as a singer's showcase, not a shell for flashy electric-guitar-playing.  Sticking with the understated country and bluegrass of her last two CDs, Parton throws herself into the lyrics, whispering the beginning and belting like Tammy Wynette by the end.  Although she also turns Bread's 1971 hit "If" into an effective torch ballad, Halos & Horns doesn't so much rehash bygone eras as showcase Parton's skills as an interpreter — especially of herself.  The beautifully sad "Not for Me" still captures a young woman questioning her place in the world.  And in the new "Hello God," she articulates our national post-September 11th feeling of "why?" Elaborates Parton: "If we're still on speaking terms, can you help us like before?"


Entertainment Weekly:

By Holly George-Warren
July 9, 2002

EW Grade:  A-

As its title implies, Halos & Horns, Parton's latest in a string of acoustic pearls, comprises opposites: Her original subjects range from witches (''These Old Bones'') to saints (''John Daniel''), gossipy tabloids (''Shattered Image'') to pastoral wonders (''Sugar Hill''); the covers veer wildly from Bread (''If'') to Zeppelin (''Stairway to Heaven'').  She pulls it off, magnificently, thanks to her spectacular trill of a soprano and earnest approach, including gospel singers and bluegrass' finest.


People Weekly:

Beneath the makeup, beneath the wigs, beneath all that Dolly, there has always been a splendid singer.  At 56, Parton has applied her terrific voice to bluegrass on her third consecutive album, following 1999's The Grass Is Blue and last year's Little Sparrow.  This is not the megastar Dolly of her TV series days, but a quietly affecting vocalist of folky, spiritual and introspective tunes, sounding as close to subdued as she is ever likely to get.  Singing with her own new band, the Blueniques — anchored by the ruminative banjo of Gary Davis — Parton (who wrote 12 of the disc's 14 songs) sounds much like her younger, unspoiled self, breezing from the moral dilemma of the title cut to the personal statement of "I'm Gone." For those who've always believed in Parton's credibility as an artist, Halos is indeed heaven-sent.

Bottom Line:  Hello again, Dolly!


New York Magazine:

By Ethan Brown

Dolly Parton's voice, which can hit intense, almost squealing high registers or whispering, soft low notes, can carry her through even the shabbiest of songs.  On her new album, Halos and Horns (which revisits the bluegrass of recent albums like Little Sparrow and The Grass Is Blue), she renders even cutesy sentimentality ("We were just kids exploring nature / learning more than we should have known") or cliché ("It's either horns or halos") compelling.  When the material is worthy — like the beautifully melancholic "Not for Me" — there are few singers more moving or emotive.  And it is her voice that makes the big gambles of Halos and Horns — particularly a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" — pay off.  With her aching cry and plaintive phrasing, Parton emphasizes the song's quiet bluesiness over its rock-and-roll grandiosity, reviving the reflective power of this most familiar (and covered) of rock songs.  Its conclusion — where Parton is backed by an ethereal-sounding gospel choir — could easily be mawkish or camp, but she gamely matches their bombast with her country squall.  Like her cover of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" with South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Parton's risks here bring great, unexpected pleasures.


Winnipeg Sun:

By Darryl Sterdan
July 5, 2002

4 out of 5 stars

She's still a world-class songwriter.  She still sings like a boid.  And despite being old enough to qualify for seniors' rates in some quarters, she's still as va-va-va-vivaciously bodacious.  Clearly, whatever Dolly Parton is doing, it's working.  And she works it again on the inviting Halos and Horns, the 56-year-old's third in a series of superb bluegrass-tinged releases.  True to its name, the old-timey CD is concerned with spiritual matters, from the title track — a moral struggle set to a lazy downhome waltz of fiddles and banjo — to the gospel-flavoured Hello God and the country-blues John Daniel.  Dolly shows she can still raise a little hell on the zippy Shattered Image and the playful I'm Gone.  Nothing raises a bigger smile, though, than her cover of Stairway to Heaven — yes, that Stairway to Heaven — which builds from its delicate opening to a grand bluegrass epic.  The devil's music never sounded quite so heavenly.


New York Post:

By Dan Aquilante
July 9, 2002

Dolly Parton, one of the most prolific songwriters in music, isn't afraid to take a risk.

On her latest effort, "Halos & Horns" - part three of her odyssey back to her mountain-girl roots - she offers an odd yet compelling combination of contemporary country, bluegrass and even rock.

Other than tumbling down a rickety acoustic "Stairway to Heaven," Parton sounds very refreshed as she revisits the themes that have guided her tunes over the years.

Dolly is always great when she's singing about loneliness - as she does on the slow "Not for Me" - but best of all is the snappy mountain gospel of "John Daniel."


E! Online: July 9, 2002

Our Grade:  A-

It's time for another roll in the bluegrass with country superstar Dolly Parton.  And we're not complaining, since Halos & Horns' retro music—Parton prefers the term "timeless"—is pick-perfect bluegrass, folk and country.  It'll charm the chaps off both diehards and the folks who've discovered these backwoods sounds because of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.  Standout Parton originals include "Sugar Hill," a gospel-tinged song about youthful seduction, and "These Old Bones," a ballad about an old psychic woman, that's brimming with over-the-top sentimentality.  Even her wide range of covers—from Bread's "If" to a touching and worthy remake of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven"—get strokes of new life under Parton's spell.


Barnes & Noble:

By David McGee

Dolly Parton completes the bluegrass trilogy she began with 1999's stunning The Grass Is Blue in spectacular fashion with her self-produced Halos & Horns.  As she did on 2001's Little Sparrow, Parton continues to work with bluegrass hues here but broadens the palette to incorporate folk and traditional country elements.  The big buzz is all about her interpretation of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven," which evolves from a stately, measured folk song with mystical strains to a boisterous, ad-libbed coda featuring an emotive gospel choir.  But the salient points about Halos & Horns are first, that 12 of its 14 songs are powerful Parton originals — as if anyone needed reminding that she ranks with country's greatest songwriters — and second, that her vocal performances are as extraordinary as any this veteran artist has laid down in her estimable career.  And that's saying something.  Her songs mine familiar turf, offering fond reminiscences of childhood ("Sugar Hill") and her mountain upbringing ("These Old Bones"); shattering accounts of heartbreak ("Not for Me," with a vocal treatment for the ages, and "Dagger Through the Heart"); and spiritually oriented themes ("Hello God," a big, booming production with orchestra and gospel choir, and "Raven Dove," which reflects on the promise of peace on earth with Jesus' return).  Parton also dusts off a gem from her great 1976 album All I Can Do — "Shattered Image" is a pointed retort to those who judge others by their appearance (this time it's personal!) — and even finds the poetry in "If," Bread's 1971 soft-rock hit.  In coming full circle to the music she was raised on, Dolly Parton sounds as tuneful and true as ever.


Calgary Sun:

By Anika Van Wyk
July 3, 2002

It is fantastic to hear Dolly Parton get back to her southern roots.  Bluegrass so suits Parton's voice and it's obvious she's comfortable with the traditional tunes.  This self-produced album works best when Parton sticks to her roots, such as in the title track, Sugar Hill, Shattered Image and I'm Gone, the album's real standout with sassy I'm-outta-here lyrics and banjo.  Parton single-handedly wrote all but two of the 14 songs (If and Stairway to Heaven) and has a wonderful style of building songs slowly.  Many start with only Parton's voice and a single instrument.  As the song continues, other instruments and vocalists join in, giving each song a finale.  The only time things falter is when Parton gets too gimmicky — Hello God, These Old Bones — and uses overly dramatic voices or whispers.  The Annie Leibovitz photos in the liner notes are a bonus.


Miami Herald:

By Howard Cohen
July 5, 2002

"Parton proves there's nothing she can't do"

It's not many artists who, 35 years into a career, can craft their strongest albums.

Bob Dylan, arguably, did so with last September's Love and Theft.  Elton John came close shortly after with Songs From the West Coast.  Willie Nelson managed to do it twice in the '90s with Across the Borderline and Teatro.

Add Dolly Parton to that list and credit her with three in a row, each better than the last.  Halos & Horns follows her two well-received bluegrass albums, The Grass Is Blue and Little Sparrow.

If Parton's early '70s singles Coat of Many Colors, Jolene and I Will Always Love You defined her as the quintessential voice of the God-fearing, Appalachian family woman, she's become better than ever at translating her skills over the course of an entire album.

In sound and theme, Halos & Horns harkens back to that Coat of Many Colors-era Parton.  Musically, the CD delivers traditional country, some bluegrass, pop and Southern gospel.  Lyrically, Parton is back home, too, with her keen eye for detail.

We met the ol' moonshiner Apple Jack once, now she introduces us to another colorful and resourceful mountain resident, the old backwoods woman in These Old Bones.  On Hello God Parton aims her voice heavenward to speak directly to its Chief Resident.  The rousing song is obviously Parton's Sept. 11 response and it works on the same simple and effective level Alan Jackson's Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning) does.  ("The old world has gone to pieces / Can we fix it, is there time? / Hate and violence just increases.")

The 14 songs on Halos & Horns reflect the chasm inherent in the title, each grappling with either/or struggles of some sort.  This isn't new territory for Parton but on the snappy Shattered Image she seems more confident.  "I'm far from perfect, but I ain't all bad . . . / Don't open my closet if your own's full of trash."

The highlight — and biggest surprise — is her wholly successful refashioning of Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven into a gorgeous Southern gospel number, complete with banjo and fiddles.  The only thing Parton and Led Zep would seem to share is a penchant for excess, but she manages to make this overly familiar 31-year-old war horse her own, underlining the poetry in Robert Plant's lyrics and writing a new closing verse to fit her own apocalyptic summation.

With Halos & Horns (in stores Tuesday) Parton proves there's nothing she can't do.  With country once again reflecting core values on disc — if not on the radio — and with old-timers such as Ralph Stanley, George Jones and Willie Nelson selling some records again, it's still unlikely anyone will come up with a better country CD this year.


Pulse:

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

It's not overstating the case to say that Dolly Parton is the single greatest artist that country music has ever produced.

Sure, there have been other contenders, but Hank flamed out, Elvis (yes, he was a country boy) zoned out and Cash, well, he's right up there.  As for Garth, two words: Chris Gaines.  None of the above have come close to matching Parton's career peaks (no, not those) or the business savvy that has enabled her to conquer all media and cross over into the mainstream with such aplomb.  And, with the expansion of Dollywood, who else can claim their own water park (Dolly's Splash Country)?  Sorry, Graceland just can't compete.

But the glitzy exterior wouldn't mean a thing if there wasn't a fantastic musical talent underneath.  This fact was just as obvious to viewers of the Porter Wagoner Show in the early '70s as to anyone who saw her big-screen debut alongside Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda in 9 to 5 a decade later.  As a songwriter, she has been covered by both Whitney Houston ("I Will Always Love You") and the White Stripes ("Jolene").  Now, after a few misguided career moves in the '90s (Straight Talk, anyone?), she has found her way back to her Tennessee roots with a trilogy of bluegrass-inspired albums on the indie label Sugar Hill, completed with Halos & Horns, the most confident and accomplished of the set.  Message to Parton: Please don't stop now, you're on a roll!

Unlike '99's The Grass is Blue and last year's Little Sparrow—both of which were produced by Steve Buckingham and featured bluegrass ringers like Alison Krauss and Jerry Douglas—this time, Parton has recruited her own band of homegrown East Tennessee pickers, and taken sole production credit for the first time in her career.  The results are often breathtaking.  Mandolin and banjo are the perfect foils for a delicate voice that can still soar to uncharted altitudes, and her writing recalls both her own early triumphs and timeless mountain standards.  The new Parton songs are nearly all keepers, as is a remake of her '76-vintage parable "Shattered Image," where she loudly declares "stay outta my closet if your own's full of trash." It's only on the gooey "Hello God" that she veers towards sentimental treacle, and even then she can't resist lifting the "hello, hello" chorus from Willie Nelson's "Hello Walls." The backwoods fable "These Old Bones" is reminiscent of her early hit "Joshua," but unfortunately takes the crazy old witch shtick a little too far.

It's Parton's choice of covers, however, that will inspire the most conversation around the water cooler.  On the last two albums, she transformed songs by Billy Joel and Collective Soul, and this time she tackles Bread's soft-rock classic "If" and, incredibly, Led Zep's "Stairway to Heaven."  Apparently, the latter is something Parton's been contemplating for a long time, as she once lifted the song's intro for "We Used To" on her '75 album Dolly.  The complete version is 6 1/2 minutes of pure hill-billy chutzpah—an ambitious arrangement with gospel choruses and supplemental lyrics that illuminate the song's quasi-spiritual message.  It should be one holy mess, but she actually pulls it off, making it the defining musical statement on this album.  To shoot this high and succeed is an amazing achievement for a performer in her fourth decade of making records, and proves that the heart of an artist still beats beneath the silicone facade.


Bradenton Herald

By Jonathan Takiff
July 2, 2002

Dolly Parton springs a super bunch of bluegrass-tinged originals plus surprising covers of Bread's "If" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" on her set "Halos & Horns" (Sugar Hill).  Taste test her rousing "I'm Gone" and label-honoring "Sugar Hill" and odd/epic tale of "These Old Bones." B+