Even though the Secret Sisters haven’t released an album since their lauded 2010 debut, Laura and Lydia Rogers have kept in the game by performing a song (“Tomorrow Will Be Kinder”) on the Hunger Games soundtrack and co-writing another (“Let There Be Lonely”) that was used on ABC’s Nashville. Their second full-length, Put Your Needle Down, keeps the focus on their mesmerizing harmonies but still demonstrates intriguing artistic progression.
On their self-titled debut, it was a novelty to hear their gorgeous vocals taking on country classics and traditional material. Put Your Needle Down has a feistier edge to it, in part because of the choice of cover material. The fierce feminism of “The Pocket Knife” comes courtesy of indie firebrand PJ Harvey, while the bluesy “Dirty Lie” was borne of an unfinished Bob Dylan song that the Sisters completed. (Your first clue Bob was involved is the nimble use of the relatively archaic word “whosoever” in the lyric.)
The Secret Sisters Talk “Dirty Lie”
Another promising development is that Laura and Lydia are far more involved in the songwriting this time around, getting help from ace collaborators like Dan Wilson and Brandi Carlisle on occasion. “Iuka” is an excellent backwoods noir about a doomed couple, while “Bad Habit” drips with sultry atmosphere as the pair sings about romantic obsession. The way those pristine voices mesh with the knottier material is revelatory, although it helps that they have the sure hand of producer T Bone Burnett helping them along.
With these grittier and more modern tracks in place, it makes the Everly Brothers-styled throwbacks stand out that much more impressively. “Black And Blue” effortlessly strides the line between country and pop, while “Lonely Island,” a Boudleaux Bryant song that Phil and Don once recorded, is dreamily melancholy.
This is an album which manages to maintain variety without seeming like a bumpy ride. First single “Rattle Your Bones” has an effective rockabilly jolt, and “Good Luck, Good Night, Goodbye” even flirts with New Wave. Slow stuff, needless to say, is right in their wheelhouse. When Laura and Lydia put their own spin on “Let There Be Lonely,” their harmonies subtly shifting as the song’s heartbreak sets in deeper and deeper, it’s the perfect marriage of killer song and sublime performance.
The final third of Put Your Needle Down trails off just a bit in quality, but that’s only because the standard of the first eight tracks is set so high. With this album, The Secret Sisters are no longer just talented voices singing well-chosen songs. Improved songwriting and assured ambition have turned them into formidable recording artists as well.