Fitting The Secret Sisters into one genre of music is an impossible task. Their musical influences are vast, coming from an array of artists and decades. You may be quick to box them in as traditional country; after all, many of the songs on their debut record four years ago are covers of country greats like George Jones, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and Buck Owens. However, their sophomore effort, Put Your Needle Down, shatters that little glass box and shows the sisters, Laura and Lydia Rogers, playing rock music, a little blues, Motown, 1950s style ballads alongside their country roots. The sisters also focused their efforts for this album on their original material, co-writing 9 of the 12 tracks, with writers such as Dan Wilson, Gordie Sampson, Brandi Carlile and they finished an incomplete song from Bob Dylan. Under producer T Bone Burnett, The Secret Sisters deliver a brilliant album to their fans.
The Best Songs on the Album
Laura and Lydia grew up singing a cappella in their church, and that history and practice of vocal harmonizing doesn’t go unnoticed here. The sisters show off a great vocal range throughout the whole album and they blend their voices together beautifully on every song, especially in “Bad Habit.” The sisters trade lines and verses throughout the song and echo the lines of the song’s outro. This is one of the few songs on the album in which they give listeners a unique, give and take vocal performance, and The Secret Sisters do not let that opportunity go to waste. The song itself is a well-written tune about an addiction. They drop lines that make it fairly clear that this addiction is to a man, but a few verse lines and primarily the chorus leave room for listeners to cast whatever bad habit he or she has onto this song. “Black and Blue” is another song that allows the listener to interpret meaning for him or herself. On the surface, is a song where a female laments over the idea of her man leaving her; she wants another chance from him. But lines like “I’m black and blue worrying over you” lead this reviewer to believe that perhaps he may be abusive and she may be submissive to that abuse. The song is written vaguely enough to allow for this open interpretation without taking away from the surface meaning of loss and heartbreak. Also the impressive Motown groove of the melody helps cover that potentially dark undertone of the lyrics.
In songs where the story is clear, The Secret Sisters drive that story home with their melodies. “Iuka” (which was recently performed on The Tonight Show) introduces us to a young couple in love. Her father is short-tempered and abusive and doesn’t want his daughter to marry, so the couple travels to Iuka, Mississippi to elope. However, the angry father chases this couple until he catches them and the sisters drive the point home with the lyric “two headstones for two lovers who finally got away.” Laura and Lydia cover PJ Harvey’s “The Pocket Knife”, a song about a young woman not wanting to get married despite her mother and suitor’s wish. It’s likely the situation in the song is an arranged marriage and the young girl in the song simply wants independence in her life. They sing this song with an angry passion that’s felt throughout the entire track. It’s worth noting the album’s namesake is a lyric from this song. Both these tracks have heavy, dark moods driven by screeching fiddles, hard-hitting percussions and intense guitar strums. The best part about these songs is that The Secret Sisters keep their perfectly harmonized vocals present in the midst of the heavy instrumentation.
The Worst Songs on the Album
There honestly isn’t a song here that I found bad or worth calling out for a lesser quality. Each song has its own unique value that it brings to the production as a whole.
The Rest of the Album
Besides their harmonies, the one other feature that stood out on this album was the percussion of every song. The tambourines and drums throughout the whole record are outstanding. In fact, the instrumentation as a whole is exceptional. The seasoned production of T Bone Burnett is felt in every song on Put Your Needle Down. They sing Motown (“Black and Blue” “I Cannot Find a Way”), blues (“Bad Habit”), rock (“The Pocket Knife” “Iuka” “Rattle My Bones”), country (“If I Don’t”, “Let There Be Lonely”, “River Jordan”); and The Secret Sisters sound natural on every track. “Dirty Lie” is the song that Bob Dylan had started years ago and sent to the sisters to finish. Laura and Lydia work with Dylan’s draft, and work their own voice into the lyrics to while intermixing their additions naturally to what Mr. Dylan began years ago. “Lonely Island” and “Good Luck, Good Night, Goodbye” are two tracks that have a 50s feel and are filled with more great harmonization and writing. After an album of mostly covers (and well done cover songs, I might add), The Secret Sisters step up to the challenge and establish themselves as artists capable of delivering great original content to a growing fan base. Most artists who undertake an album where they jump into four or five different genres may stumble and fall with the choppy nature of the tall order, but not The Secret Sisters. Laura and Lydia have the vocal gifts to effortlessly deliver authentic sounding songs in every genre they touch, matched with a great production to sell that authenticity.
In the Rolling Stone article linked above, Lydia Rogers says if you can’t categorize your music, then you’re not following a formula or musical trends, which means that your music is truly something special. And that’s what Put Your Needle Down is; it’s something special. This album is a musical time machine, taking it right into the center of each era of great music and The Secret Sisters flawlessly execute every song, delivering a quality that could stand up with each genre’s best. This is no sophomore slump. Laura and Lydia prove their songwriting prowess and establish themselves a strong base on which to build a strong, promising musical future.