Good Golly Miss Dolly
Dolly Parton found Jesus at Irving Plaza last Wednesday night, though he’s absent from the CD she was promoting, Halos and Horns —a non-denominational, New Age blend of mountain roots that borrows from her earlier pop hits and more recent bluegrass forays. Parton may find her way back to radio yet. With her eight-piece backing band, the Blue-niques, Parton pledged her devotion by way of the solo acoustic “Calm on the Water,” as well as the more raucous “Shine,” her Grammy-winning Collective Soul cover. The set repeatedly visited her last two bluegrass albums, The Grass Is Blue and Little Sparrow, including the heartbreak territory of both title tracks. There were mountain classics (“Train, Train,” “Rocky Top”), Dolly classics (“Coat of Many Colors,” “Jolene”), Dolly covers (Bread’s “If,” Neil Young’s “After the Gold Rush”), and Dolly Hits 101 (“9 to 5,” “I Will Always Love You”). Like she was in a Smoky Mountain jamboree, Parton switched instruments—banjo, harmonica, acoustic and electric guitars—throughout.
You don’t operate a successful amusement park without crackerjack show-woman chops, and Parton’s bawdy jokes and Colgate smile were in no short supply: When the band lost a horn, Parton quipped, “I’m horny enough”; after ’80s girl-power anthem “9 to 5,” she playfully slapped her ass like a randy Dabney Coleman. You also need heaps of self-effacing humor (“We’re a bunch of hicks!” yelled Dolly as she and the band launched into “Who Let the Hogs Out?”) and patriotic fervor (“Are you proud to be an American?” asked Dolly, foreshadowing “Color Me America” ‘s drumrolls). It was unclear whether her New York audience—alt-country hipsters in cowboy hats, countrified lesbians, older gay men from the South, a rumored Debbie Harry and Björk—received her as kitschy bodacious belle or lilting backwoods bird. If Parton had her way, it’d probably be both. —Carla Spartos
Let’s Get Busy in Victorian
Richard Thompson got cheers at Joe’s Pub Saturday night for announcing that his next song was from the Industrial Revolution. It was the English singer-guitarist’s fifth and final sold-out performance of “1000 Years of Popular Music”: a personal selection of (mostly) anglophone hits, starting with the 13th-century round “Sumer Is Icumen In” and running through Prince’s “Kiss,” by way of medieval ballads, Gilbert & Sullivan, George Jones, and the Beatles. (Earlier nights’ lucky bastards got “Oops! I Did It Again.”)
The advantage of the show’s format was that Thompson got to play a lot of crowd-pleasers-by-definition—his own setting of Shakespeare’s “Full Fathom Five” had the only imperfect melody of the evening. But the songs he picked also resonated with his own work. He easily could have played the 19th-century union song “The Blackleg Miner” with Fairport Convention in 1970 or so, and “tempted by the fruit of another” sure sounds like a Richard Thompson hook. Guest singer Judith Owen’s performances, including “Cry Me a River” and a Henry Purcell aria, were a welcome reminder of how good Thompson’s guitar sounded with Sandy Denny and his ex-wife Linda’s voices.
If anything, Thompson has become an even more impressive guitarist over time, offhandedly juggling simultaneous lead, rhythm, and bass parts on the same six strings. He gleefully impersonated an entire big band on Nat “King” Cole’s “Orange Colored Sky,” then reminisced about seeing the early Who “in a club about twice the size of this room” before a virtuosic, rambunctious version of “A Legal Matter.” As distinguished a songwriter as Thompson is, he’s always had a way with other people’s stuff—his sole chart hit to date is a Bob Dylan cover that Fairport recorded back in 1969. Wouldn’t it be great if he did it again with Britney? —Douglas Wolk
England Made Me
As the Bowery Ballroom’s lights went up after Longwave’s set last Thursday, Wes Anderson cornered a couple of Strokes. A few hours earlier, Yoko Ono had skittered through the club in a white carapace of a jacket. Anointed by the British press as the new Radiohead after a stint opening for the Strokes on their U.K. tour, Brooklyn’s own Longwave are generating a buzz worthy of the far-ranging radio frequencies they’re named after. But their audience gave off more wattage than the band’s draggy, lackluster set. Like a pack of shoegazers in shiny white Nikes, Longwave partner their moody, effects-laden guitars with MTV-ready melodies and vocals, creating an effect that’s less Wall of Sound than Kitchen Island of Sound. A plodding pace and lead-footed use of the delay pedal made their sound sludgy, especially in combination with lead singer Steve Schlitz’s deep, droning voice. Fitting that the band closed their set with a song called “Wake Me When It’s Over.”
Longwave should have taken a swig of whatever opening band the Realistics ingested before their set. Recalling This Year’s Model-era Attractions mixed with the Jam and Joe Jackson, the band laced their set with tire-screeching song endings and falsetto harmonies worthy of a rock musical. The band took the crowd through a theme-park tour of power-pop’s touchstones, from the Vapors’ jittery guitars to the rousing drum-thump of the Romantics; when singer Dennis claimed, “You’ve been messing with my mind/Trying hard to take my energy,” while dashing across the stage like a grade-schooler on Kool-Aid, his velocity belied the song’s accusation. About to embark on a two-month English tour, the Realistics played the Ballroom like a last hurrah, stretching their legs and exorcising their jitters before they cross the pond. Too bad Longwave are apparently still shaking off that transcontinental jet lag. —Darby Saxbe