Review: Secret Sisters' 'Saturn Return' - Rolling Stone
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The Secret Sisters Find Their Voice on ‘Saturn Return’

Gifted sibling country duo team with Brandi Carlile for an excellent LP

THE SECRET SISTERS

Alysse Gafkjen

The fourth album from Alabama sibling duo the Secret Sisters is the stunning country-soul opus their talent has always promised. Laura and Lydia Rogers have been at it since 2010, making solid LPs with high-profile producers (T Bone Burnett, Dave Cobb) while lending their Southern church harmonies to legends like Willie Nelson and Elvis Costello. In 2017, the pair enlisted singer-songwriter Brandi -Carlile to co-produce their third LP, You Don’t Own Me Anymore, helping them up their game in a set of songs about piloting life’s hardships, delivered with tender -intimacy. Carlile is back for Saturn Return, a spare, -gorgeous, relatably realistic set. “Late -bloomers on parade” is how the group put it on the Elton John-meets-Dusty Springfield declaration “Late Bloomer.” That well-chosen sentiment is truth in -advertising.

Carlile and Jacob Hoffman’s supple piano playing lend a warmth that complements the Rogers’ dexterous vocals. The duo don’t sugarcoat their litany of career challenges: “It’s not glamour, it ain’t fortune,” they sing in note-perfect unison on “Nowhere, Baby.” Yet, they sound more comfortable than ever throughout this elegantly sparse collection, singing solo leads for the first time, coming together with heartening beauty on the songs’ choruses.

The record taps the melting-pot influences native to their hometown of Muscle Shoals, from hymnal ballads like “Tin Can Angel” and “Hold You Dear” to the Joan Baez-like noir folk of “Fair.” They honor vintage sounds, but also play with them: “Silver” feels like a 17th–century-style English ballad, telling the tale of a woman who realizes she’s going gray, but what feels like a lament soon becomes a speedy roots rocker with a winking defiance against the stigma of aging.

A tension between Southern gothic darkness and churchy salvation has always simmered beneath the surface of the Sisters’ music. Here it feels like that fault line might erupt, as they segue from bluesy rage (“Cabin,” inspired by the Brett Kavanaugh -hearings) to dreamy retro-pop pastiche (“Hand Over My Heart”).

The effortlessness with which the Secret Sisters articulate their musical ambitions places Saturn Return among recent country-roots gems from songwriters like Jason Isbell and Pistol Annies. If working through their struggles has been a strange process, the wait was more than worth it. As they tell us with pride, “It doesn’t matter when you bloom/It matters that you do.”

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