Dolly Parton, Little Sparrow (Sugar Hill): Who knows why geniuses sometimes take a decade or two off from their genius, the way you and I take a week off work? But as long as Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt and John Prine return to form, who really cares why? Now I'd add Dolly Parton to that list. Little Sparrow proves that 1999's The Grass Is Green was no fleeting burst of inspiration; Parton hasn't been so consistently exciting since the '70s. If anything, the new one suggests an evening kicking back with one of the world's greatest entertainers as she goes through her song collection like old love letters. She steals "Shine" from Collective Soul, jazzes up "I Get A Kick Out of You" Willie Nelson-style. Even her own "Down From Dover" gets a remarkable overhaul from the actress within; the heartbreaking catch in her throat as she describes the stillbirth actually eclipses her original performance. The album is peppered throughout with angry tales of women who were wronged, are wronged or are about to be wronged, with the title tune counseling against ever getting involved with men. The brilliant "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby" stands apart, starting out like one of those tales only to surprise us with a twist, and for once a happy ending. — Kevin John

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