Dolly Parton Comes to Brooklyn
The Gentlemen Callers had just played an excellent gypsy-rock instrumental followed by a country song that was just so-so. “What is your favorite thing about Doll Parts?” the guitarist asked the bass player.
“I can’t say it into the mic,” the bassist responded. Banter ensued, then he seemed to get a little more serious. “They’re not hipsters. Their love for Dolly Parton is sincere…not ironic at all.” He didn’t really mean ironic. He meant sarcastic. But he looked a little drunk so he gets a pass.
Doll Parts, “Brooklyn’s premier Dolly Parton cover band,” are actually as sarcastic as you would expect from the band name (it’s a reference to a song by Hole, Courtney Love’s old band). Last night they packed Union Hall. Wild guess (this could be completely wrong) – this is a project devised by theatre girls who thought it would be fun to do something campy and over-the-top, and who better to parody than Dolly Parton? Her career is studded with songs that are ripe for the picking, and this band found the most egregious ones. As you may have guessed by now, Doll Parts aren’t a country band: even with the addition of the Gentlemen Callers’ Alex Marcus on swirling country fiddle, what they played was competent rock versions of Dolly songs, mainly from the low point of her career in the late 70s and early 80s. The four-part harmonies of keyboardist/guitarist Kate Marvin, Telecaster player/pianist Shane Chapman, baritone ukulele player Julia Sirna-Frest and bassist Maggie Robinson were impressively tight. Individually, the vocals were more wobbly, but that seemed to be part of the joke.
They introduced Neil Young’s Seven Bridges Road as a cover. “But sometimes Dolly Parton does covers,” Marvin explained.
“Does that make us a meta cover band?” Sirna-Frest responded.
And surprisingly, the jokes didn’t go much further than there, considering how awful some of the songs were. A couple members of the band couldn’t hold back from a “I can’t believe I’m singing this crap” smirk as they careened through the first song of the set, Baby I’m Burning. I Will Always Love You featured a jokey Jaws interlude by Robinson toward the end of the song, but otherwise the comedy was in the material. It’s one thing to hear Here You Come Again, or Nine to Five, in the supermarket; standing and watching Doll Parts play relatively straight-up versions of both of those songs drove home just how crass, cliched and deliberately moronic they are. Which in itself is amusing, at least to a point – although the band could have had even more fun with them than they did.
And as it turned out, not everything they played was a joke, either. They turned the wistful bluegrass tune Little Sparrow into an unselfconsciously fetching a-cappella waltz, and then did Jolene as a sad waltz a little bit later on. Doll Parts are a relatively new band, obviously still working out their shtick: it was cool to see them mixing it up like this, and to see that they actually can tell the difference between Parton’s schlocky songs and the good ones. They’re playing the Way Station in Ft. Greene on Aug 28 at 8.
The scariest part of the night had nothing to do with the band. When they got to Islands in the Stream, most of the crowd sang along, deliriously. That’s an old song to begin with: most of the audience wasn’t born yet when it came out back in the 80s. How does a Millennial recently relocated to Park Slope even know that this song exists? Was everyone in the house a diehard karaoke addict? Has the economy tanked to the point where every young person who’s moved to Brooklyn from out of state in the last couple of years is stuck behind a counter at a David’s Cookies in some dreary shopping mall where they’re subjected to that garbage as it plays over the easy-listening station for the umpteenth time? Or is Islands in the Stream just another track on the gentrifier playlist, along with Journey, and Katy Perry, and Justin Bieber? If that’s true, New York is in more trouble than we ever knew.