Dolly Parton: Halos & Horns

Joke all you want about how Dolly Parton missed the "No Stairway" sign on the wall. On a CD-closing version of "Stairway to Heaven," the fifty-six-year-old country superstar remembers Led Zeppelin's burned-out rock-radio classic as a singer's showcase, not a shell for flashy electric-guitar-playing. Sticking with the understated country and bluegrass of her last two CDs, Parton throws herself into the lyrics, whispering the beginning and belting like Tammy Wynette by the end. Although she also turns Bread's 1971 hit "If" into an effective torch ballad, Halos & Horns doesn't so much rehash bygone eras as showcase Parton's skills as an interpreter — especially of herself. The beautifully sad "Not for Me" still captures a young woman questioning her place in the world. And in the new "Hello God," she articulates our national post-September 11th feeling of "why?" Elaborates Parton: "If we're still on speaking terms, can you help us like before?"