The Secret Sisters — a neotraditional country duo consisting of not-so-secret sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers — have all the right hallmarks to appeal to anyone with a sense for rich music history. The pair hails from the music mecca of Muscle Shoals, Alabama; their lilting, sumptuous harmonies have often been compared to the Everly Brothers; they’ve recorded with Jack White, and both of their albums have been produced by the brilliant guiding hand of T Bone Burnett. The only question regarding the growing (or, indeed, continuing) of their appeal lays in the question of what place a traditional country sound has in the modern musical landscape.
Everything about the Rogers girls feels like a throwback. They grew up around gospel music. As young girls in and around Muscle Shoals, they learned to harmonize singing a capella in the church choir. When the pair was eventually signed and flown out to Los Angeles to record their debut album in 2010, it was Laura’s first time in an airplane. Even the way in which their self-titled debut was recorded — all analogue with vintage mics and reel-to-reel tape — creates a feeling like the ladies have been plucked out of time and brought forward.
Burnett loves the pair, and that alone can take an act a long way. Just by having his name attached, The Secret Sisters have found themselves making the rounds on late night TV, hitting up Letterman and double-dipping “The Tonight Show” with both Leno and Fallon, and have had their music featured on “The Hunger Games” soundtrack. Initially signing on to produce after hearing the rough cut of their first album, Burnett described his personal affinity for the duo in a promotional YouTube video with the simple “When they sing, it sounds like music.”
But the public hasn’t seemed to figure out what to do with The Secret Sisters. Their traditional country sound doesn’t lend itself to radio play amongst the electrified posturing of the modern bro-country set, and their sophomore album, “Put Your Needle Down” debuted on the Billboard Country chart at No. 18, but has since slid slowly downward, like an exotic dancer with carpal tunnel. Strong debuts with little staying power will only keep an act in a label’s graces for so long, T Bone Burnett or no T Bone Burnett.
But if The Secret Sisters become a victim of the money game, it will be a shame. Because there’s something memorable and important in those two beautiful voices coming together the way they do. Whether they’re putting a bow on an unfinished Bob Dylan ballad (“Dirty Lie”), or covering Brandi Carlile (“Rattle My Bones”) or performing something completely original (“If I Don’t”), the Sisters provide a look at how music can be when it’s taken out of the mass-produced studio setting and allowed to breathe.
“You go in (to the studio) and they are like, ‘Oh we did so-and-so’s record,’ ” Laura said in an interview with American Songwriter. “(They say) you have to, like, piece in every little syllable of every word because one syllable might sound better than the other. It’s like, how do you ever mimic that live, you know? You don’t.”
And you shouldn’t have to. Dylan didn’t. Willie Nelson didn’t. The Everlys didn’t. And if more people can get back to thinking like T Bone Burnett, maybe The Secret Sisters can keep doing it their way, too.
“Put Your Needle Down” brings the Sisters forward in time a bit. The sound is less vintage, but the feel is every bit as authentic. And if there’s one thing the music industry has in increasingly short supply, it’s authenticity. CV