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"Jesus, I've got Jesus/He's my everything/He lifts me up, He gives me wings/He gives me hope and He gives me strength/And that's all I'll ever need/As long as He keeps lifting me up/He is my life, He is my God/He is my wings, He is my flight/Lift me, I've got Jesus, I've got Jesus and that's all I need" —from "Jesus and Gravity"

Dolly Parton's latest country music album, Backwoods Barbie, may well be her tackiest cover art to date. I spent a while wondering whether it was ironic or not: the Barbie dolls in Dolly clothes? The mudflap girl with Dolly's, ahem, proportions on a yellow Ford pickup? This country superstar has always poked fun at her image, but she's also maintained it at great effort and expense. Trying to figure out whether Dolly Parton is ironic is like looking for the end of a mobius strip.

In Backwoods Barbie, Parton once again offers what has made her famous since 1963: songs that any country girl can belt out in the car with utter conviction. And true to her country roots, two or three of the songs are about cheatin', five more are about being cheated on or abandoned, and one is about emancipation from a no-good arrogant man. And then there are the personal songs that only Parton can carry off: a couple of inspirational autobiographical songs, as well as one about Jesus.

Her songs put forward Christian spiritual elements, like faith and prayer, but Parton has never been one to get specific with theology. She told Larry King in a 2003 interview that, while she is very spiritual, "I wouldn't say that I'm religious. I grew up in a very religious background. … I trust God, I love God, and I love the thoughts of it. Even if there was no God, I'd prefer to believe it, because I prefer to believe in something ...

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June 2008

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