Dolly Parton, "Pure & Simple" (Sony Music Nashville)
The list of country legends able to do whatever they want musically without alienating their fans isn't long: Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and maybe a handful of others.
On her new album, "Pure & Simple," Parton tests the limits of that license with an odd mix of cheating songs and fairly predictable elegies to endless love she wrote herself. The sound is stripped-down and agreeable, but the words don't break new ground — and some are downright cloying.
There is no "I Will Always Love You" or "Little Sparrow" here.
There are a couple of songs you won't be able to un-hear — "I'm Sixteen," a parade of clichés about feeling young even though you're old, and "Head Over High Heels," which might be a candidate for radio play but won't inspire much beyond the urge to change the channel.
But here's the thing: Parton remains impossible to dislike. What made her great in the first place was her disarming honesty, her cut-to-the-chase openness, her little-girl voice saying big-girl things in ways that swept late night television hosts off their feet.
It's rare for legends to produce original work on the back end of their careers. Both Johnny Cash and Lynn managed it when they had a little help from their friends, but it's anything but a given.
So listeners with tempered expectations and an endless love for Dolly will get what they came for here. There's enough of her essence to satisfy the most devoted fans, and maybe that's OK.