Originally a hit for George Jones as “A Girl I Used to Know”, their effective cover gave Porter & Dolly their second top five hit.
The harmonies are beautiful, and the steel guitar works wonders. You can hear Parton growing as a vocalist during the moments that Wagoner gets out of the way, and when Parton takes a back seat, it’s clear that Wagoner is in his singing prime.
The song’s become a standard, so it feels odd to nitpick over its flaws. But I have to say that what holds this record back is the questionable horn section. Thankfully, they only disrupt the song at its opening and its closing.
Far too polite and matronly to make for an interesting country record.
“Always, Always” plays more like an Episcopalian church hymn, with two singers pledging their love so antiseptically that they might as well be promising to pick up milk and eggs on the way home from work.
For Wagoner & Parton together, however, this tale of a young girl who is afraid of the dark is only subtle when measured against the jawdroppingly tasteless “I Get Lonesome By Myself” and “The Party.”
Here’s the premise: Jeannie is afraid of the dark. She sleeps with mommy and daddy and has a panic attack when she goes to the cemetery to place flowers on old family graves, knowing that it’s awfully dark down there.
Connoisseurs of country songs like this know there’s only one logical way for this song to end. She triumphs over her fears and grows into a confident young woman. She gets killed off in the third act and the parents place an eternal flame on her grave.
Porter & Dolly scored a double-sided hit single in 1968, with both sides establishing a subgenre within their catalog.
The A-side, “We’ll Get Ahead Someday”, became their first top five hit. It’s the first single of theirs that casts them as the playfully quarreling husband and wife.
It’s not quite as charming as “Two Sides to Every Story”, which appeared on their debut album, because the humor’s a bit too subtle. Perhaps it’s too grounded in reality, as the duo of faults presented – she’s spending too much at the store and he’s spending too much at the bar – are delivered a little too straight for the lyric’s own good.
Their live performances of the song capture the playfulness of the song more effectively.
A large part of the appeal of these classic duets is that it feels like you’re eavesdropping on a real couple.
The emotional honesty here is so raw that even the band knows to hold back and leave the singers front and center. There’s no ironic detachment here; the feelings are truly being felt.
And just when you think that the title is being stretched too thin from overuse, and that perhaps there aren’t enough ideas here to finish the rest of the record, Parton sings, “I feel guilty when they envy me and you”, bringing a whole new level of pathos to the table.
When the chemistry is there, it’s there from day one. The pairing of Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton was electric, and all of the elements that made it work were clearly evident on their first single.
The harmonies on the chorus and the conversational verses were an instant blueprint for the rest of their work together. They’d go on to release many great duets, but it rarely got better than “The Last Thing On My Mind.”
Their breezy, casual indifference as they claim they never meant to hurt each other is so much more powerful than a sincere delivery would’ve been.
Despite some amazing album artists – a Willie Nelson here, an Emmylou Harris there – country music has always been a singles format. Over the past seven years, we’ve charted the development of some artists from the very beginning, like Lady Antebellum and Zac Brown Band, just by reviewing their singles.
With Retro Single Reviews, we’re going to go back in time to tell the story of the genre’s biggest artists from the very beginning, by reviewing all of their singles in chronological order.
Here’s how it works: At any given time, we’ll be working our way through the catalog of five artists. When we complete one of them, we’ll add a new one to the rotation.
The first five artists are:
Alan Jackson (1989-present)
He began his career on Arista Records in 1989, recording with them through 2010. This year, he is prepping his first album on his own label.
Tim McGraw (1992-present)
In his twentieth year on the charts, McGraw is also prepping to leave his longtime label, which is making more money off of hits collections these days than anything else.
Dolly Parton (1967-present)
The most successful female singer-songwriter in country music history has duets with everyone from Porter Wagoner to Ladysmith Black Mambazo in her catalog of singles.
George Strait (1981-present)
With three decades of singles already under his belt, he’s had more #1 hits than any other country artist, and trails only Eddy Arnold and George Jones among all-time hitmakers.
Shania Twain (1993-present)
The top selling female country artist of all time, she’s just released her first new music in six years. Her career includes several singles that were released only in international markets.
It’s hard to believe that there once was a time that country artists put out two full-length albums a year. If they were part of a regular superstar duet team, like Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn or Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton, a fan might hear as many as four new studio albums from their favorite artist.
By the time that I got into country music – twenty years ago, natch – things had slowed down a bit. Artists usually released a new album every 12-18 months. Sometimes they’d push it to two years, but not often.
Those were the days. Waits between album releases have gotten crazy lately. I’m all for taking the time to get it right, but once we push past the half-decade mark, things have gone too far. Sure, we’re given side projects to carry us over, but there’s no substitute for a full-length studio album of all-new material.
Here are five artists who I’d really love to see make a long-awaited return with a new album in 2011, along with a brief rundown of the side projects that they’ve been busy with while we’ve waited for that new album:
Last Studio Album: Up! (2002)
Side Projects: Greatest Hits (2005), featuring four new tracks; contributions to a Dolly Parton tribute album, a live Willie Nelson album, an Anne Murray duet album, and the Desperate Housewives soundtrack.
It’s been over eight years since Twain released that 19-track opus. It was cool that she released the album in three different mixes, essentially giving us 57 new mp3s for the iPods we didn’t even have yet. Of all the superstar acts, she’s the one who has been away the longest.
Last Studio Album: What the World Needs (2003)
Side Projects: Live album, Christmas album, covers album, Cracker Barrel album…
In a sense, she’s never really gone away. But despite being a fixture in the media and releasing so many other-type albums, we haven’t gotten a real studio set from Wynonna in over seven years. Given that the last one was among the finest in her career, it’s a shame she has yet to craft another mainstream country album.
Last Studio Album: Blame the Vain (2005)
Side Projects: A Buck Owens tribute album in 2007, Dwight Sings Buck.
The most distressing absence on the list, mostly because he’s been so prolific in the past. Movie appearances are keeping him busy. Here’s hoping that when he does return, we get more than ten songs.
Last Studio Album: Taking the Long Way (2006)
Side Projects: “The Neighbor”, from the Shut Up & Sing documentary; contributions to a Tony Bennett duet project; Emily and Martie’s Court Yard Hounds set; Natalie’s duet with Neil Diamond.
It’s hard to follow up an album that wins a bunch of Grammys, but it’s not like they haven’t done so before. If they’re insisting on writing all of the next album, it could be gestating for a very long time. Can’t we get a Patty Griffin or Darrell Scott covers album to hold us over?
Last Studio Album: These Days (2006)
Side Projects: A mother lode of duet and harmony appearances on other artist’s albums (Reba McEntire, Charlie Daniels, Amy Grant, Clay Aiken…)
Gill’s last album was a four discs worth of new material, so it’s understandable that it would take a couple of years for him to craft a new one. But we’re going on five now. Since Gill was able to create those four discs a mere three years after his previous studio set (2003′s Next Big Thing), we should be due for a new album soon.