Friday, June 2, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1646: The Secret Sisters

I was recently on a road trip for work and foolishly forgot to bring a book. While this made me antsy in all the moments that travel essentially requires you to sit still and wait for something, I was able to fill the time with this next record, and thus got in even more listens than I anticipated ere today.

Disc 1646 is…Self-Titled

Artist: The Secret Sisters

Year of Release: 2010

What’s up with the Cover?  Laura and Lydia Rogers, aka the Secret Sisters, wearing “we play folk and country music” flowy dresses which, as we will read below, is fitting.

The CD booklet features additional dresses for both, all equally flowy and folksy. Lydia showcases three such dresses, but Laura only two (and sports the same set of earrings throughout). This leads me to believe Lydia has the better wardrobe.

But I digress…back to the music.

How I Came To Know It: I discovered this band in 2017 when they released their third album “You Don’t Own Me Anymore”. From there I swam backward through their musical catalogue and at the headwaters of that journey I found this record, which is their debut.

How It Stacks Up: I have four Secret Sisters albums, which is all of them. I put their self-titled debut in at #3.

Rating: 3 stars

The Secret Sisters first album is also their most traditional. This record has a homespun charm, weaving back and forth between bluegrass and country in a gentle undulation between the two styles so subtle you might miss it if you didn’t listen to it six or seven times in succession like I just did.

The Secret Sisters were just setting out on their recording journey and were still finding themselves. Sometimes this creates an album that goes all over the place, and others it results in an artist staying firmly in their lane. Here we have an example of the latter.

This is not a criticism, however. What the Secret Sisters are doing here they are doing very well. One of the hallmarks of bluegrass is that the tunes may be simple, but that just means the delivery has to be that much better. The Sisters rise to that challenge.

The first thing you’ll notice is the exquisite harmonies. There’s something about siblings that gives them a leg up on landing tight harmonies, and the Rogers sisters are no exception. Both have sweet individual tones, but together is where they shine brightest. They recognize this, rarely going more than one or two bars solo before the partner hops in and elevates the tune.

The best example of this is the opening track, “Tennessee Me” which is the best song on the record. Despite this record being only my third favourite, “Tennessee Me” is one of their top five songs on any of their records. Accompanied by a light touch on a piano, the Sisters sway gently through the song. This is a tune for warm and lazy summer days in the south (or anywhere for that matter). It is a love letter to a place, to a person but more than anything, it is a love letter to whatever gives your spirit rest and respite. During a week that was hard at times, this song coming on all those times helped keep my batteries charged.

Tennessee Me” is one of only two originals on the record (the other being “Waste the Day”). This is a shame since the Sisters are natural songwriters and both tunes are among the strongest on the record, holding their own against a host of timeless classics.

The covers are solid as well, with notables including Buck Owens’ “My Heart Skips a Beat” where they blend the Bakersfield Sound with an old-school Andrews Sisters vibe. They also tackle two Hank Williams’ classics, “Why Don’t You Love Me?” and “House of Gold”. Both are solid but “House of Gold” is the superior cover, with its lost highway tune structure, sung by the Sisters with a psalm-like reverence.

There are moments where the old-timey feel was slightly too old timey even for me. “Do You Love an Apple” is one of the most beautifully sung songs on the record, but like other traditional songs (e.g. the risible “You Are My Sunshine”) it comes off as a bit saccharine to the modern ear.

Overall the trip into old school forms (both through traditional and originals) is a wonderful and appropriately sentimental journey. Three well deserved stars.

Best tracks: Tennessee Me, My Heart Skips a Beat, Waste the Day, House of Gold

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