She’s been performing for more than 50 years, so Dolly Parton knows what works, and her hugely entertaining “Backwoods Barbie” show at the Greek Theater delivered the combination of cornpone and heartfelt emotion in exactly the right proportions. But what was unexpected was how fresh the she sounded and how well her new material fits into the formula.
At 62, squeezed into a white suit that emphasizes her trademark bustline, Parton remains as slyly bodacious as ever, and she is singing as well as ever. She also takes a great deal of pride in her musicianship, picking up a guitar for about half the show and tossing in licks on fiddle, banjo and harmonica during “Thank God I’m a Country Girl”; dulcimer (on “Shattered Image,” a ballad decrying tabloid culture), autoharp (a lovely “Coat of Many Colors”), penny whistle (the Celtic tinged “Only Dreaming”) and piano (“The Grass is Blue,” in an arrangement inspired by Norah Jones’ 2003 cover version).
The two-hour show, performed as two one-hour sets with intermission, mixes humor — mostly “Hee-Haw” level jokes — and reminiscences of her hardscrabble youth.
The latter leads into her best performances of the night. “Coat of Many Colors” remains a heartbreaking song, and Parton performs it with the respect it deserves. She also looks back to her roots with the harmony showcases “Do I Ever Cross You Mind” and “Little Sparrow,” and “Puppy Love,” a sassy, Wanda Jackson rocker that was her first released record.
She performs half of the songs from this year’s “Backwoods Barbie” (released on her own Dolly label) and they seamlessly slip into the show. The title track, written for the upcoming musical adaptation of “9 to 5,” is another bootstrap call for respect; “Shinola” is the latest warning to a deadbeat man. Even her bluegrass lite cover of Fine Young Cannibals “She Drives Me Crazy” works.
But why wouldn’t they? They’re perfect for the role she has created for herself. And Dolly, who jokes she’s probably best known for her role on “Hannah Montana,” will probably still be playing it when Miley Cyrus is the answer to a trivia question