DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (9)

By: Carlo Rotella
January 27, 2023

One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of favorite Country singles from the Sixties (1964–1973). Series edited by Josh Glenn. BONUS: Check out the DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM playlist on Spotify.

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BUCK OWENS | “TOGETHER AGAIN” | 1964

The first two words of the song, “Together again,” sound promising enough, though Buck Owens delivers them with a clipped resignation that suggests otherwise. Then Tom Brumley’s pedal steel guitar comes in with the kind of tragically lush phrase you’d expect in a barroom weeper about having your heart torn in two, rather than in a song about getting back together. Owens follows up with “My tears have stopped falling,” after which Brumley lands another ominous doozy, discovering new dimensions of woe as he warps the middle tones of the IV chord. “The long lonely nights,” Owens sings, “are now at an end,” and Brumley drags himself with heartbroken dignity back to the top of the verse.

And there in a nutshell you have “Together Again,” the saddest song ever written about the opposite of breaking up. The singer keeps insisting that “nothing else matters” because he’s back with his beloved, but he spends most of the song cataloguing all the falling tears, long lonely nights, gray skies, dead love, and other achingly un-gotten-over afflictions that supposedly have been brought to an end by the rapprochement.

As recorded, the song is really a sparely arranged duet for voice and pedal steel. Brumley plays obbligato straight through, hanging back to avoid stepping on Owens’ lines and then coming forward with a swell of response in the spaces between them. His choicest riposte may come when Owens sings “The key to my heart you hold in your hand.” The steel guitar’s sinuous line, descending and then ascending, seems to say that it knows the beloved will use that key to first exalt and then destroy the singer but there’s nothing anybody can do about it. The hints of dissonance in Brumley’s bends impart a sinister quality to even the sweetest slides up to a ringing major chord. This has all happened before, maybe more than once, he’s telling us, and it’s going to happen again.

“Together Again” holds a place of honor in the country canon as one of the all-time great showcases of the art of the pedal steel guitar. Framing and doubling Owens, Brumley cedes primacy to the singer’s voice and attends to his instrument’s supporting role, though he delivers a justly famous solo that skews the overall balance away from the voice and toward the steel guitar. And that’s only fair, since Brumley tells the truer version of the story. The singer may be trying to convince himself that being together again is all that matters, but the steel guitar’s already anticipating the moment when he’ll be back on a barstool, pouring out his freshly re-broken heart as he laments the inevitable return of trouble and sorrow.

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DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | David Cantwell on Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton’s WE FOUND IT | Lucy Sante on Johnny & June Carter Cash’s JACKSON | Mimi Lipson on George Jones’s WALK THROUGH THIS WORLD WITH ME | Steacy Easton on Olivia Newton-John’s LET ME BE THERE | Annie Zaleski on Tammy Wynette’s D-I-V-O-R-C-E | Carl Wilson on Tom T. Hall’s THAT’S HOW I GOT TO MEMPHIS | Josh Glenn on Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen’s BACK TO TENNESSEE | Elizabeth Nelson on Skeeter Davis’s I DIDN’T CRY TODAY | Carlo Rotella on Buck Owens’ TOGETHER AGAIN | Lynn Peril on Roger Miller’s THE MOON IS HIGH | Erik Davis on Kris Kristofferson’s SUNDAY MORNIN’ COMIN’ DOWN | Francesca Royster on Linda Martell’s BAD CASE OF THE BLUES | Amanda Martinez on Bobbie Gentry’s FANCY | Erin Osmon on John Prine’s PARADISE | Douglas Wolk on The Byrds’ DRUG STORE TRUCK DRIVIN’ MAN | David Warner on Willie Nelson’s WHISKEY RIVER | Will Groff on Tanya Tucker’s DELTA DAWN | Natalie Weiner on Dolly Parton’s IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS (WHEN TIMES WERE BAD) | Charlie Mitchell on Stonewall Jackson’s I WASHED MY HANDS IN MUDDY WATER | Nadine Hubbs on Dolly Parton’s COAT OF MANY COLORS | Jada Watson on Loretta Lynn’s DON’T COME HOME A DRINKIN’ (WITH LOVIN’ ON YOUR MIND) | Adam McGovern on Johnny Cash’s THE MAN IN BLACK | Stephen Thomas Erlewine on Dick Curless’s A TOMBSTONE EVERY MILE | Alan Scherstuhl on Waylon Jennings’s GOOD HEARTED WOMAN | Alex Brook Lynn on Bobby Bare’s THE WINNER. PLUS: Peter Doyle on Jerry Reed’s GUITAR MAN | Brian Berger on Charley Pride’s IS ANYBODY GOING TO SAN ANTONE.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

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Categories

Country, Enthusiasms, Music