My journey into country music has been one of love. On one of our first dates my girlfriend and I went to a dive bar that had a picture of Hank Williams. When I asked her who that was I watched as she visibly considered whether to dump me. Since then I’ve sought out country and country-adjacent music for the long-term viability of our relationship.
Through her I discovered The Secret Sisters, whose most recent album, Saturn Return, dropped right before the pandemic really hit. Saturn Return revels in the relationships women have with each other, with their mothers and grandmothers. As an album it deals explicitly with losing people, and the stories we tell to fill in their gaps. It is a more pensive album than their earlier ones–reveling as much in ‘70s style folk melodies as old country standards. It feels like something you listen to driving around on an autumn Sunday evening. My favorite song on the album is “Hold You Dear,” a loving, mournful, ballad about treasuring loved ones as they, and the songwriter, age. I listened to the song almost daily throughout this year–as I was apart from my girlfriend, as my own grandmother was in hospice care, as I mourned absent friends.
The song holds both permanence and impermanence in its lyrics. “I know these days will pass away/So, I will hold you dear/You’re a part of me and the one I love.” While this first reads as a basic reflection on the impermanence of life, there is something about the affirmation of the presence of one’s loved ones, even in death and separation, that feels vital right now. In my tradition we believe in “The Communion of Saints,” the ongoing relationship between the church’s living and deceased members. In a year of separation, the song is a reminder that holding our dear is not a metaphor, it is a reality.
Emma Koch is a writer, crossword enthusiast, and chaplain currently living in Chicago.
The Secret Sisters (active 2009-present) is an American folk band consisting of vocalists Laura Rogers and Lydia Slagle. Saturn Return was released in February of 2020 and received praise from Rolling Stone and American Songwriter.