US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Listen: Put Your Needle Down

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The Secret Sisters (Universal Republic Records, 2014)

Nothing quite divides audiences like country music. Some love it. Some hate it. Even those who love country music can make sharp distinctions between contemporary country and classic country. Recently, the singing pair of Laura and Lydia Rogers of the Secret Sisters emerged onto the country music scene with haunting harmonies that recalled the past in a beguiling way. Their debut album established their fondness for Hank Williams and George Jones while nevertheless showcasing their own songwriting credentials with original songs.

Their sophomore album Put Your Needle Down sees them charting new musical territory. It finds an intriguing balance between pining heartbreakers that invoke the ghost of Patsy Cline and edgier country tunes that veer toward rock and roll. Along the way they get some help from some noteworthy musicians. Avant-garde jazz guitarist Marc Ribot adds his distinctive touch with banjo and slide guitar. Most impressively, Bob Dylan offered the Secret Sisters the opportunity to finish one of his unrecorded songs, “Dirty Lie.” The resulting track is a must-listen with its turn of phrase and barroom-soaked sound. The Secret Sisters make this tune and others their own by situating them in the moods and melodies of the American South.

Lyrically, many of the songs visit familiar country tropes—loneliness, heartbreak, unrequited love. But the blending of the singers’ voices imbue these songs with a forlorn tone that reinvigorates these well-trod subjects. There are moments in songs like “Lonely Island” that disarm with their plaintive pleas. The album ends with a revamped gospel tune that evokes the choir where they began their singing career but shows just how far they’ve come. In their love for the past and openness to experimentation, the Secret Sisters are avoiding any “either-or” mentality in country music and making the future of that genre all the more promising.

This article appeared in the September 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 79, No. 9, page 42).