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.”