Originally from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, The Secret Sisters – made up of real-life siblings Laura and Lydia Rogers – released their self-titled debut album back in 2010. Since then they’ve racked up critical acclaim for their gorgeous harmonies and won over fans on both sides of the Atlantic through appearances at events such as London Folk & Roots Festival. Now they’re back with their fourth record Saturn Return, the follow-up to 2017’s You Don’t Own Me Anymore, which has been produced by Brandi Carlile and Tim and Phil Hanseroth.
The album opens with Silver, an ode to motherhood and the legacy of family. It starts with Laura and Lydia singing acapella, their voices blending together beautifully as always, before kicking into a 60s rock-influenced melody with a shuffling, driving rhythm on the chorus. I loved the earthy feel of the track and particularly the story of their family history in the second chorus, which paints a vivid picture of the line of strong women they come from, as well as the references to religious imagery on the bridge. It really shows off their strengths as vocalists and songwriters and sets the template for what’s to come on the rest of the record.
That theme of family is one that crops up time and again during Saturn Return, whether that’s the heartfelt, piano-led Hold You Dear, with its soft lullaby-like feel and lush strings, or Fair, which reflects on a childhood friend who’s now ‘a mother who’s fighting to stay clean’ and the different life paths she and the narrator have taken. The latter song is packed full of vivid details which show the hardships of the central character’s life and the narrator’s hope things will get better for her, as well as the world she and the narrator grew up in, balanced by a nostalgic, folky melody. It’s got a really organic feel to it and for me is one of the highlights of the record.
A Saturn return, the astrological phenomenon the record is named after, is apparently a time for self-reflection and transformation, and that’s another strong narrative thread that runs through this album. The warm, soulful Late Bloomer was a great example of this, with its sharp chords and quietly joyful message that ‘it doesn’t matter when you bloom/it matters that you do’, and put me in mind of The Mamas & The Papas.
Elsewhere, a pair of songs midway through the record reflect on the challenges of the musician’s life on the road. Tin Can Angel had a jaunty, rollicking barroom feel that combined bluesy guitars and rich vocals from Laura and Lydia with soaring vocals that at times almost pleaded for a sign to keep going. Meanwhile, Nowhere, Baby, with its introspective and self-doubting lyrics and the determination to stick with it despite all the hardships, mixed Carole King and gospel influences and saw the duo hit some big notes towards the end.
Two of the standout tracks for me came early on the record. Cabin is a dark, atmospheric track about emerging from the ashes of a toxic relationship, with an ominous, menacing feel and a punchy guitar solo. It’s a very different energy from anything the band has done previously and something I’d love to see them explore more of in the future.
The next track, Hand Over My Heart, couldn’t be more different with its girl group-style ‘oohs’ and 80s synthesisers, but it has a beautiful sweetness to it and I love the bright, optimistic feel of it as well as the honesty about entering into a new romance. Together they tell a great story and create a solid centrepiece to the album. I also really liked Water Witch, a folklore-inspired tale of a siren luring men to their fates. It really embraces female power, with its strong imagery of rebirth, and the gorgeous clarity of Laura and Lydia’s vocals stops it from being too dark and mournful.
The album closes with Healer In The Sky, which for me brings the record full circle. It’s a simple yet moving guitar-led track, with a lush expansive feel and richness from the horns. The spiritual images and family ties echo back to Silver, as do the acapella vocals which bring the song to a close, and it reinforces the message of strength that’s been a thread throughout the record.
Overall Saturn Return is a gorgeous record that’s made for wintry Sunday mornings turning into spring. It highlights Laura and Lydia’s harmonies beautifully, as well as their ability as songwriters, whilst the 60s and 70s influences give it a timeless feel. This is an album that’s going to sound utterly wonderful live and I can’t wait to hear it when they come over to the UK this summer.
Track listing: 1. Silver 2. Late Bloomer 3. Cabin 4. Hand Over My Heart 5. Fair 6. Tin Can Angel 7. Nowhere, Baby 8. Hold You Dear 9. Water Witch 10. Healer In The Sky Record label: New West Records Release date: 28th February 2020
See The Secret Sisters live on tour in the UK this June:
Wednesday 10 June – The Apex, Bury St Edmunds
Thursday 11 June – The Met, Bury
Saturday 13 June – Sage, Gateshead
Sunday 14 June – Firth Court, Sheffield
Tuesday 16 June – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Wednesday 17 June – The Stables, Milton Keynes
Thursday 18 June – Union Chapel, London
Friday 19 June – St George’s, Bristol
Sunday 21 June – Black Deer Festival, Tunbridge Wells