Finances aside, pop stardom hasn't been too kind to Dolly Parton in the long run. After a brilliant early performing and recording career (a great deal of which has inexplicably fallen out of print), Parton found herself trapped between her country roots and the expectations of an audience accustomed to watered-down releases that didn't make the best of her formidable skills as a singer and songwriter. Eventually, Parton lost much of her country-radio audience in the early-'90s Big Hat Purge of older artists, by which time she'd lost the pop crowd, as well. But that doesn't mean she isn't still a great country artist, as the new The Grass Is Blue proves on track after track. Recording with a group of bluegrass all-stars (Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Barry Bales, Sam Bush, Bryan Sutton, Jim Mills), Parton cuts loose the ornamentation of her pop releases, throwing herself into the demanding bluegrass form. Covers dominate Grass, among them songs by the Louvin Brothers, Lester Flatt, Johnny Cash, Hazel Dickens, and a surprisingly appropriate translation of Billy Joel's "Travelin' Prayer." But holding up just as well are Parton's originals, whose titles alone ("Will He Be Waiting For Me," "Endless Stream Of Tears") suggest their directness. Revitalized, Parton sounds assured throughout The Grass Is Blue and she has every right to be.