Reviewed: Dolly Parton @ LG Arena, Birmingham

At 8.09pm, the LG Arena was a sea of anticipation and pink stetson hats. She may have been a few minutes late but when Dolly Parton graced the stage with her glittering presence, all was forgotten in an explosion of welcome noise. Prior to this, the show began with a slideshow of the queen of country’s accolades. At 68 years of age, and now with 42 albums under her (presumably studded) belt, this opening reiterated what a phenomenal career Dolly has had, and also how she admirably possesses no desire to slow down.

What was immediate about this country starlet was her incredibly warm stage presence. It’s hard not to be won over by a hill-billy lilt, but there was more to it than that. All smiles from start to finish, it was clear that the entire crowd was charmed by her openness. Personally, I wasn’t expecting the evening to have much comedic value, but Dolly’s self-aware one-liners frequently had me in stitches, one great example being her classic line, “it takes a lot of money to make someone look this cheap”.

The set-list spanned all of her greatest hits (many of which were skilfully woven into medleys) and also featured new tunes and covers from Blue Smoke, her tour’s namesake. She assured us that although she would be playing new songs, they would still sound old – this assertion was correct in the best way possible. Her new album’s title track Blue Smoke was a catchy, upbeat ditty that screamed traditional bluegrass, and despite being new to most of the crowd, after one chorus plenty of people were singing along. Also featured was a gospel interpretation of Bon Jovi’s Lay Your Hands On Me, and a beautiful cover of Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice (But It’s Alright) – both of which are featured on the new album.

The latter of these songs was one of many points of the show that highlighted Dolly’s understated talents as a multi-instrumentalist – banjo, harmonica, organ, dulcimer, the list goes on. She even busted out a take on the Benny Hill theme as a solo during Rocky Top.

In terms of the classic hits, all the essentials were there – sung beautifully and often pre-empted by a heart-warming story behind their conception, Coat Of Many Colours for example, was movingly dedicated to her ‘Mama’. Her famous 1973 hit Jolene was performed brilliantly, but in many parts as an emotive whisper. For a moment I was concerned that perhaps age was taking its toll, and she may not have been capable of consistently belting out songs like she used to, but her semi-acapella performance of Little Sparrow shut me right up. With the harmonies of her phenomenal backing singers behind her, in my eyes this powerful performance was easily the highlight of the evening.

Overall, it was a wholesome night full of sparkle, storytelling and self-satire, and one that proved Dolly Parton is still a top tier entertainer; truly deserving every speck of starlight she’s been given.