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Beautiful Dolly: Melissa, Meshell, and Sinead are among the singers paying tribute to the legendary Dolly Parton on a new compilation.

Just Because I'm a Woman

* Various artists

* Sugar Hill Records

Dolly Parton hasn't always overtly courted queer audiences, but she has consistently held our collective fascination and ardor for over three decades. Unlike other mainstream divas, who often earn our community's praise for roof-raising vocals or cutting-edge style, Parton seems to tickle our fancy in various, sometimes conflicting ways.

For some, it's her outlandish physicality. "She's the ultimate drag queen," notes David Siegal, 34, of Austin. "Who wouldn't love her?" For others, it's her accessibility to her fans. "She seems to genuinely care for the people who support her career," says Patrick Gorman, 31, of Atlanta. "In this age of arrogant divas, a warm heart is pretty rare."

By and large, though, it's what many perceive as the emotional purity of her music that keeps queer listeners engaged. "Her music touches what a lot of us like--pride, family, patriotic feelings," says Gari Sandusky, 41, of Miami. "You listen to her music and feel connected to her on a very deep, personal level."

All of these elements are evident in the lovingly assembled Just Because I'm a Woman, a compilation that has such A-list recording artists as Melissa Etheridge ("I Will Always Love You"), Shelby Lynne ("The Seeker"), Emmylou Harris ("To Daddy"), Shania Twain ("Coat of Many Colors"), Norah Jones ("The Grass Is Blue"), and Sinead O'Connor ("Dagger Through the Heart") paying musical tribute to Parton.

Just Because I'm a Woman draws its title from Parton's 1968 albino, and the artist has rerecorded the song for inclusion on this compilation. Swathed in delicate bluegrass guitar riffs and a gentle bass line, the song is as flesh and engaging now as it was 35 years ago. Most notable are Parton's vocals, which retain the girlish technical timbre of the original track but are now underlined with a worldly quality that only a lifetime onstage can provide.

Parton sets the bar high for her performing counterparts to match. Despite a couple of dodgy moments, most of the participants handle the challenge with equal parts flair and palpable reverence. Etheridge is particularly memorable as site interprets the well worn "I Will Always Love You" with an intensity that honors the original recording but with a heartbroken, almost desperate edge that renews the song.

If Etheridge is at her best on Just Because I'm a Woman, then Meshell Ndegeocello is at her most playful--sort of. On "Two Doors Down" she embraces the innate joy of the composition while adding a subtle poignance that is both suitable to her soulful nature and appropriate to the lyrics.

In the end, it's Ndegeocello's input into Just Because I'm a Woman that captures the true essence of Dolly Parton as a recording artist and as a queer icon. She's always known when to get deep--and when to shrug off the melodrama and have a good time.

Flick is the cohost of OutQ in the Morning on OutQ/Sirius satellite radio.
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Article Details
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Author:Flick, Larry
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Nov 11, 2003
Words:491
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