Having gone several years without doing a tour as extensive as her outing this summer (nearing 50 dates so far and counting), one might think Dolly Parton would bring out a big production to mark the occasion. Instead, the country music legend is taking a fairly low-key approach. Like the title to her new collection of new original songs, “Pure & Simple,” she’s doing nothing to distract from her songs and personality in her show.
“It’s done pretty simple because we don’t have the full band with full sets of drums and all of that,” Parton said in a recent teleconference interview with reporters. “As far as the band, it’s just the four of us on stage, Richard Dennison (keyboards), Tom Rutledge (guitar) and Kent Wells (guitar). We just kind of swap off different instruments. It’s pretty much scaled down, not a lot of loud music. We don’t have a bunch of videos or anything going on in the background. So it’s pretty much just us, just us-n’s.”
“Pure & Simple” is actually one disc in a two-disc set released to coincide with the tour. The other CD features some of Parton’s biggest hits, hence the title of the package, “Pure & Simple with Dolly’s Biggest Hits.” The shows this summer and fall, Parton said, will lean heavily on songs included in that double disc set, with plenty of her hits, three or four of her new songs and segments spotlighting her gospel and folk roots.
“We’ll be doing on stage all the favorites – ‘Jolene,’ ‘I Will Always Love You,’ ‘9 to 5,’ ‘Islands in the Stream,’ all of that stuff,” Parton said. “Then we’ll do our little gospel things. We’ll have our corny jokes and all of those kinds of things. So I think we’ll have some fun things for everybody. We have a little folk song section that we’ll do.
“I always talk about the ‘Coat of Many Colors’ (song) and my mom,” she added. “And of course, now that the ‘Coat of Many Colors’ movie did so well, I’ve also written a song called ‘Mama’ that I’ll probably sing before I start talking about the home section and the ‘Coat of Many Colors.’ So I’ll just be talking about all the different types of things, about my grandpa and being brought up and just how I was brought up and why it means a lot to me. I’ll be doing my little gospel segment based on the fact that I grew up in my grandpa’s church.”
The story of Parton’s hardscrabble upbringing, as she mentioned, was brought to television in 2015 with the movie “Coat of Many Colors.” The film, which drew more than 15 million viewers in its initial airing, was released on DVD on May 3 and is helping bring a new round of attention to Parton, who has 25 No. 1 country hits to her credit and has been inducted into numerous music halls of fame, including the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
The fourth of 12 children, Parton grew up, as she has often put it, “dirt poor” in rural Tennessee in a one-room cabin. Her grandfather, Jake, was a preacher, and it was in church where Parton, now a youthful 70, first began singing in public. “Coat of Many Colors,” a chart-topping single from 1971, told the story of how Parton’s mother, Avie, stitched together a coat for her out of rags given to her parents. The care her mother put into that coat demonstrated the love she had for all of her children and symbolized that while her family lacked money, it was rich with love and faith and gave her the foundation for the life she has lived ever since.
“Pure & Simple,” which arrived on Aug. 19 and hit No. 1 on Billboard’s country albums chart last week, is Parton’s 43rd album. It features the rootsy country sound embodied in the album’s title. Parton said she was pleased with the songs she wrote for the “Pure & Simple” disc to go with the hits on “Dolly’s Biggest Hits.”
The title track was the first song Parton wrote for the project, and it spurred her to find a connecting thread for the album.
“I thought, well, what’s this album going to be about? And is it all going to be just pure and just simple plain songs?” she said. “But then I started to write and they all turned out to just be songs about love, different kinds of love, not story things, but just love songs. And so I just really thought it felt really good.
“So I just took off and acted on faith and just wrote what songs came to mind, what thoughts and feelings I had, thinking ‘OK, I’ll need a fast one here, I’ll need a half-fast one here, if you’ll pardon the expression, and I’ll need a real slow one here,’ ” she said.
“And so actually I just thought, ‘What are good subjects about love?’ And I just thought, ‘Well, love is something I know about,’ so hopefully you’re going to enjoy this album.”
This story has been updated to reflect the correct venue for this concert. The show will be at Northern Quest’s outdoor concert stage.