Where to begin? I’m falling over my words quite literally because there are so many things I want to say about The Secret Sisters and their glorious new record, “You Don’t Own Me Anymore.”
In December 2003, I was lucky enough to see Simon & Garfunkel perform in Boston, and as you can imagine, they were sensational. What’s more, the opening act was The Everly Brothers although it feels odd to refer to them as an “opener.” Their harmonies are legendary, and I imagine there’s a corner in heaven where Phil Everly is still singing them. I mention them because The Secret Sisters have been compared to The Everly Brothers because of the similarly breathtaking sibling harmonies.
Laura and Lydia Rogers were born a stone’s throw from the fertile musical grounds of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In 2009, they participated in an open audition in Nashville that resulted in getting signed to Universal Republic Records and having their self-titled 2010 album being produced by T Bone Burnett and Dave Cobb. A tour with Levon Helm and Ray LaMontagne ensued, and The Secret Sisters were soon sharing stages with Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Paul Simon. Burnett released their sophomore album, “Put Your Needle Down,” in 2014, which is when I discovered and fell head over heals in love with their sound. In October 2015, I saw The Secret Sisters open for Brandi Carlile at the Orpheum in Boston, and I was blown away. This past April, I saw Carlile perform at Nashville’s famed Ryman Auditorium and the last song of the night was “Amazing Grace” sung at the end of the stage without microphones by Carlile and surprise guests The Secret Sisters. I’ll never forget it.
In June, The Secret Sisters released their third album, “You Don’t Own Me Anymore,” produced by Carlile and her longtime bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth. All three of them are all over the record, and it’s nothing less than a phoenix, especially considering what the Rogers sisters went through after “Put Your Needle Down” came out. They were dropped by their label, and a legal mess followed. It got so bad that they had to declare bankruptcy, and Laura started cleaning houses just to stay afloat. These were dark times, and after reaching such highs, The Secret Sisters had reached an all-time low and weren’t sure if their music career could survive. Thankfully, Carlile stepped up and offered to produce their next album. A Pledge Music fundraising campaign reached half of its goal in two days and all of it in a month with pledges by almost 1,500 fans. With a producer and funding in space, Laura and Lydia had to dig deep to let some wounds heal, but once the creative spark took hold, it was off to the races with songwriting.
“You Don’t Own Me Anymore” opens with “Tennessee River Runs Low,” which immediately transported me to someplace I’ve never been — down South about 75 years ago. Maybe there’s a church there as well, I’m not sure. After a haunting opening chorus of “Oh-dee-oh-dee-oh,” the song continues with “If I were born to be a river/If a river is all I be/I’d tell the giver/Of all the rivers/To make me the Tennessee.” Tim Hanseroth’s banjo and Jacob Hoffman’s piano add to the drama of a song that would likely revive a corpse, provided too many sins weren’t committed.
Here’s “Tennessee River Runs Low”
The album stays on the water with “Mississippi,” a sequel to the murder ballad “Luka” from “Put Your Needle Down.” In “Luka,” a father kills his daughter for getting married too young. The story continues in “Mississippi,” and this time it’s from the dad’s perspective. He tries to justify his killing ways and essentially blames the devil and whiskey for his crime. The song is dark and breathes emotional fire.
“Carry Me” is going to make you cry if you’re not ready for it or if it catches you at just the wrong – or right – moment, depending on your perspective. So if you’re sitting near me at Stone Mountain Arts Center during this one, please hand me some tissues, and I’ll try to contain myself. But no promises. “If I came back and fell at your feet/Would you even recognize me/I’m worn and I’m weathered/But your love is the shelter I need,” sing the Rogers with close, sublime harmonies against a backdrop of Phil Hanseroth’s bass, Tim Hanseroth’s guitar, Brandi Carlile’s guitar and piano and some drums, French horn and cello in the mix.
Watch this sweet video for “Carry Me” full of home movie clips and keep an eye out for Brandi Carlile and the Hanseroth twins:
And then there’s the Simon & Garfunkel cover. The Secret Sisters take on “Kathy’s Song,” penned more than 50 years ago, and they maintain the song’s bittersweet tenderness. And I’ll just say something some may consider sacrilegious because I’m feeling it; I actually like The Secret Sisters version better. The way their voices attach themselves to lines like “My mind’s distracted and diffused/My thoughts are many miles away/They lie with you when you’re asleep/And kiss you when you start your day” reaches into the deepest chambers of my heart. But know that I worship at the Simon & Garfunkel altar, and if it helps at all, I’m not so hot on the Disturbed version of “The Sound of Silence.”
Getting back to the beauty of “You Don’t Own Me Anymore,” I’ll lastly talk about the title track. Lyrically, the song is a woman trying to convince herself she’s moved on from a broken relationship while still trying to mop up her tears. It’s got an old-fashioned retro feel to it, and although I’m not sure if it was inspired by Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” I suspect the late Gore would approve.
Here’s “You Don’t Own Me Anymore”
The Secret Sisters have three shows happening this weekend: two in Maine and one in Portsmouth. The NH one is sold out so jump on the Maine tickets ASAP. Trust me on this.
8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 24. Stone Mountain Arts Center, 695 Dugway Road, Brownfield, $20. stonemountainartscenter.com
7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25. The Strand Theatre, 345 Main St., Rockland, $20 in advance, $25 day of show. rocklandstrand.com