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The irrepressible Dolly Parton opens up about God, the good ol' USA and her "weapons of mass distraction"

"I'm not a bit political, but I'm extremely patriotic," declares Dolly Parton. "As I always say, beneath these boobs beats a very patriotic heart!"

That's Dolly - in the middle of a serious discussion, she can't resist cracking a joke about the famous assets she calls "Shock and Awe, my weapons of mass distraction."

But Dolly is very sincere about her patriotism, as well as her spiritual beliefs. That's why she made her new album, For God and Country, a mixture of patriotic and religious songs.

"Right now, we need to believe in America, we need to believe in God and we need to believe in ourselves," she says. "I've always wanted to do a patriotic album and a gospel album, and I thought the time was perfect right now."

Religion and patriotism can both be touchy subjects, especially in such socially charged times. But as you might expect from a woman beloved by such a wide variety of fans around the world, Dolly's vision of both America and God are very inclusive.

"I'm not a religious fanatic," she says. "I'm not even religious. I'm very spiritual, and I love God. But I'm not trying to cram religion down anybody's throat, because everybody has to find God in their own way, whatever they perceive him to be. God can just be your higher wisdom or whatever, but we need something bigger than us to look to and believe in."

Her notion of the meaning of America is just as commonsensical. "In spite of our faults and shortcomings, it's still the greatest place in the world to live," she figures. "Even if we are nuts!"

Dolly lays out her vision in an epic album that delivers old standards and newly written originals in the down-home style familiar to fans of her last several critically acclaimed bluegrass CDs. But there are new elements: For God and Country plays like a musical, complete with between-song dialogue and sound effects.

It's a risky, experimental approach that may surprise many listeners - but after nearly four decades of stardom, 24 No. 1 songs, seven Grammys, hit movies and a long list of honors, including Country Weekly's 2003 Career Achievement Award, Dolly figures she has earned the right to take a few chances.

"I feel like it's my own ass on the line," she says. "It's all right if I embarrass myself. I'm old enough, I've done enough and who am I going to be afraid of now? I will take chances. Why not?

"There's always gonna be somebody to bitch about something, but I can't worry about them." She lets loose another of her trademark giggles. "What are they gonna do, kick me out of the business?"

- Story by Chris Neal