By the time Blue Smoke was released in 2014, the Dolly tides had almost fully turned. The then 68-year-old singer had come full circle in a way, from savant to country music punchline to memefied global icon whose cultural significance sometimes outpaced even her musical impact — most often evidenced by debates over whether or not she could credibly be called a “feminist” (a term she neither embraces nor vehemently rejects), and a booming business in merchandise that positioned her as some kind of human deity (WWDD?). She certainly didn’t need to record a new album, except perhaps as the nominal impetus for a tour; her legacy as an artist had been cemented decades earlier, and most listeners couldn’t even be trusted to give the new stuff a shot when they could easily listen to “Jolene” for the zillionth time instead.
But Dolly isn’t for our amusement, really, nor is she for whatever elaborate belief system we might project onto her. She chose to make a vibrant, rollicking new album that included members of her Mighty Fine touring band presumably because she wanted to, and because it’s what she does — what she does with the kind of clarity and ease that can make any music timeless.