More angelic than devilish, Halos & Horns, the third in a series of back-to-the-roots styled acoustic albums the legendary country singer recorded for Sugar Hill label, again boasts superior musicianship and a loose but not necessarily low-key style. A mix of new songs, rerecorded obscurities Parton felt deserved another chance ("What a Heartache" got lost on the soundtrack to Rhinestone, "Shattered Image" is a little-known gem from 1976's All I Can Do album, and an unrecorded oldie "John Daniel" goes back nearly 35 years), and high-profile covers of Bread's "If" and Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" find the singer/songwriter is in excellent voice and exuberant spirits. Some of the new compositions, such as the ballad "If Only" (written for a movie about Mae West Parton was making when recording this album, but deemed too sad for the soundtrack) and the stirring "Raven Dove," with a full gospel backing, are nearly the equal of the singer's best work. The jaunty tempo but sorrowful lyrics of "Dagger Through the Heart" is classic bluegrass complete with banjo and fiddle and an example of Parton at her finest. Not everything works; "These Old Bones," a winding story-song marred by Parton taking the voice of an old woman on the chorus, is sappy if well intentioned, and her version of "If" remains a bit smarmy, even torn down to its acoustic roots. But her take on an album-closing "Stairway to Heaven" (given the thumbs up from no lesser experts than Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, who had to approve Parton's slightly altered lyrics) smartly and successfully refashions the song's dense themes into a contemporary gospel ode which retains the mystery of the original even as it is rearranged for this project's folk/bluegrass direction. Stirring, unpretentious yet powerful, Halos & Horns effectively continues Parton's glorifying of her mountain roots. She subsequently launched her first tour in a decade after this disc's 2002 release.
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AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz