Dolly Parton is rewinding the clock on her new album. Pure & Simple, out this Friday, features new songs with stripped-down arrangements that the country icon says remind her of the early days of her career. It also includes re-recorded versions of older songs from the 1970s like “Tomorrow is Forever” and “Say Forever You’ll Be Mine” that help recall memories of the beginning of her marriage to husband Carl Dean, with whom she celebrates 50 years this year.
“We re-did our vows in May, so I thought, ‘Maybe I should just make a whole album of love songs,'” Parton explains. Below, EW catches up with the Southern star to talk about her love of Adele, skinny-dipping, and plans for both a dance album and a “white-trash blues album.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re currently on the road for the Pure & Simple tour—your biggest North American trek in 25 years. What made you want to hit the road?
DOLLY PARTON: It came out of some charity shows I did at the Ryman [Auditorium in Nashville] last year. We didn’t have a full band or a big production—it was just four of us on stage. My bigger band had already gone out and was working with Garth Brooks and some other people, so I just gathered up the ones that were in town. Everyone seemed to love it. They said, “Why don’t you do your whole tour like that?” I said, “Okay!”
You also have a new album of love songs titled Pure & Simple.
My husband [Carl Dean] and I have been married for 50 years. A lot of the songs we did with pure and simple instrumentation, too. The guitars, fiddles, and banjos reminded me of my early career.
On the new track “I’m Sixteen,” you sing, “You’re never old unless you to choose to be.” Five decades into your career, that must be a personal motto for you.
I have a good attitude, even when I go through hard times just like everyone else. You don’t have to have a sick attitude even if you have health problems. Your attitude doesn’t have to grow old. We don’t know how many days we’re going to have in this world. I’ve just always tried to make the most of every single one of ’em, and I plan to continue to do that.
That song is one of my very favorites on the album. I’m hoping if other people like it we get the chance to do a video. I think it’d make a precious video to have a bunch of old people dressed like they’re in the ‘50s, in their poodle skirts doing the jitterbug, thinking they’re still young.
“I’m Sixteen” also has lyrics about midnight skinny-dipping. Is that a secret to your 50-year marriage?
Well, it didn’t hurt! We’ve always tried to stay active. We’ve always had fun like that. We both feel like we’re not old. We look at the numbers like, “Oh my God, that can’t be us! We can’t be this age!”
Love is one of the oldest topics in music, and you’ve written some of the most iconic love songs in pop. Is it challenging to find new ways to talk about the subject?
Even though I’m married it doesn’t mean I’m dead or blind. I’m a romantic, passionate person. I also write about other people: “I’m Sixteen” [was inspired by] a sister I have who’s had a couple of bad marriages and relationships. She’d just be so heartbroken thinking she was never going to find true love. Recently she did find someone who’d been through similar things, and they’re just as happy as they can be. They act so stupid, just like they’re 16 years old. It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.
Has performing with a smaller, stripped-down band on tour helped you fall in love again with your older material?
Yeah. We don’t have the big band, but [the fans] don’t seem to miss it. I mostly just tell the stories. It’s more about the song, about being able to sing along. When I really get down to doing those songs that are really heartfelt, I think people prefer not to hear a big bunch of music with my voice. I prefer it too. I’ve enjoyed not having to sing over the top of everything else.
You’re known for your glamorous look and flashy outfits. Have you been scaling those back for your tour as well?
Oh no! I have a joke on stage about why we don’t have a full band. They asked me when I talked about going pure and simple if that meant I was going to get rid of all these big show wigs and all that makeup and the rhinestones. I couldn’t sing a lick without my rhinestones on! But seriously, I like dressing up because I’m a showgirl. People don’t want to just see me out there being plain. They expect me to be flashy.
On the track “Head Over High Heels,” you talk about doing your makeup like Adele. Are you a fan?
I love her. We both admire each other and talk about each other in interviews. I would love to write with her. I put that in the song in case she heard it and looked me up and said, “Let’s do something.” I could ride on her famous coattails!
Earlier this year, Loretta Lynn said country music has become too pop. What do you make of the genre today?
Back in the old days when me and Loretta started out, people were almost ashamed to say they liked country music because they called it ass-kicking music. I think it’s great people have embraced country music. It’s really grown, it changes its colors. You have to keep up with the times to keep the flow going. You just can’t be pure country and expect to be in that crossover world. But I still believe there’s always going to be people like me and Loretta. Young folks like Miranda Lambert…I think she makes really great records that have a great attitude.
You’ve talked before about recording a dance album for your LGBT fans. Are there other genres on your to-do list?
I definitely want to do this dance album. I’ve been promising that for years. I have several original pieces already done and could even remix some of my hits for that, too. But I would love to do more of the old mountain music, the old ballads from the old world. And I’d like to do a great blues album—a white-trash blues album.
Your 1973 song “Jolene” has been covered by everyone from Ellie Goulding to the White Stripes. Do you have a favorite version?
I like ‘em all! I love that Keith Urban does it on stage, just him and the guitar. Jack White with the White Stripes, I love their version of that. But Miley [Cyrus]? I think Miley killed it. She did a version [for her Backyard Sessions series in 2012] that just came so naturally from her heart. I like it always when anybody does my song. I’ve always believed that someone like Miley or Beyoncé ought to take that song and put it out as a single because people don’t really realize that it didn’t sell much. It became famous over the years, and it’s the most-recorded song I’ve ever written, but I would love for some big-name girl to record that and have a hit on it.
The Miley version must be special—not only is she your goddaughter, but she probably introduced a lot of her fans to you by having you on Hannah Montana.
I’m honored that people respect my writing because that means more to me than anything. I love being able to sing too, but that’s what I’d love to do most. If I had to quit everything else, I think I’d just say, “Okay, I’ll go home and be a songwriter.”