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For Dolly Parton, it's just instinct

POP MUSIC

The country music veteran has made a career out of following her feelings. Her concert tour is taking her to the Hollywood Bowl.

July 17, 2011|Randy Lewis

Don't get Dolly Parton started about end-of-the-world prognosticators. The Country Music Hall of Fame member was raised and remains devoutly religious, as she demonstrated so artfully in her biblically rooted classic song "Coat of Many Colors." But the firebrand singer, songwriter and businesswoman isn't remotely interested in giving an ounce of credence to doomsday scenarios espoused by mere mortals like Bay Area radio preacher Harold Camping.

On her new album, "Better Day," Parton sounds in the first song, "In the Meantime," like she's been writing straight off the headlines Camping generated with his widely disseminated prediction that Judgment Day would come on May 21.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, July 17, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Dolly Parton: An article about Dolly Parton in the Arts & Books section elsewhere in this edition refers to the Hollywood Bowl as a 19,000-seat venue. It has 18,000 seats. The error was discovered after the section went to press.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, July 24, 2011 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part D Page 3 Calendar Desk 0 inches; 22 words Type of Material: Correction
Dolly Parton: A July 17 article about Dolly Parton referred to the Hollywood Bowl as a 19,000-seat venue. It has 18,000 seats.

Yet she wrote the bouncy song, which urges listeners to make the most of whatever time the human race has left rather than fretting about its obliteration, long before Camping's name was rolling off the tips of newscasters' tongues. "I started writing it years ago," Parton said from her desk in the Nashville office where she conducts her many business affairs. It's also close to the rehearsal space where she's been readying her "Better Day" U.S. tour that starts Sunday night in Knoxville, Tenn., and brings her to the Hollywood Bowl on Friday and Saturday. "I wrote it when some other crazy looney-tune was saying the world was coming to an end."

In one verse, she sings:

Well, nobody knows when the end is coming

But some people tell you they do

It might be today, it might be tomorrow

Or in a million years or two

In the meantime, in the between time

Let us take time to make it right

And let us not fear what is not clear

Faith should be your guide

Faith -- in God, and in her own instincts -- is what keeps Parton, who turned 65 in January, a fount of creative energy and what leaves her unafraid of skewering anyone she thinks is full of hot air. Her barbs, however, are usually delivered with a twinkle in her eye and that wry half smile that's one of the many signature facets of her effervescent public persona.

"God knows when the end of time will come," she said, "not some fanatic.... The world will end someday, but the end of the world and the end of time are two different things. Anyway, we're more apt to blow the world up than something else happening."

Parton clearly would rather people "pay a little more attention to what we do in the meantime.... I believe in that old saying, 'If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant an apple tree today.' I'm going to write my songs today, and if the world ends tomorrow, well, we have hope and there's a lot of good stuff going on now."

The good stuff includes the new album, which extends her return to the country-pop mainstream sound she resurrected with her 2008 album, "Backwoods Barbie." That came after a string of rootsy recordings that mined the bluegrass influences she grew up with in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.

"Better Day" for the most part successfully bridges her more pop-flavored but sometimes fluffy '80s albums with her more consistently inspired recent bluegrass collections.

It has been favorably received by many critics, scoring an aggregate critical response of 80 out of a possible 100 points at Metacritic .com. It includes vintage material she's revisited for a new generation, including the first single, "Together You and I," which she had recorded in the '70s as a duet with the man who launched her career in the mid-'60s, the late country traditionalist Porter Wagoner. It was her professional split with Wagoner that led her to write her best-known song, "I Will Always Love You," which Whitney Houston transformed into a pop-R&B anthem with her 1992 recording.

It's certain Parton will give "I Will Always Love You" a central role in shows she's doing at the Bowl, her first full-fledged concerts at the venerable venue, for which she'll be backed by much the same versatile country-rock band that's accompanied her in recent years.

Parton is one of a relatively few country acts to have played at the Bowl over its 90-year history, a record that's a bit of a mystery given that so many rock, pop, R&B and jazz acts that normally play much smaller venues while on tour often find themselves facing capacity crowds at the 19,000-seat music and picnicking institution.

Patti Page, a country-pop darling in the 1950s, appeared at the Bowl in 1988, and superstar Garth Brooks made his only U.S. concert appearance of 1994 there, as a benefit for a Southland organization helping the needy. Country-pop crossover divas Shania Twain and Faith Hill have landed Bowl performances, in 1999 and 2009, respectively.

"I'm proud to be there," Parton said, but noted it's not an unprecedented event for her. "I've walked out and sung a few songs with different people there, and I've been to shows there myself, which is why I know how fun it is to be there. I'll be doing four or five songs from the new CD and added some bluegrass things I didn't do on the last tour."

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