The Secret Sisters

Put Your Needle Down

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The Secret Sisters, the singing and songwriting duo of sisters (it's really not so much of a secret) Lydia and Laura Rogers, hit the O Brother Americana vein with their self-titled debut album in 2011, a T-Bone Burnett-produced facsimile gem that reimagined and re-created the feel of 1940s traditional country and honky tonk, made more than that by the bright, assured distaff Everly Brothers-styled singing of the two sisters. It was an impressive debut, but it also was one that could have easily painted the Secret Sisters into a dusty back-alley country corner stylistically. This was obviously on everybody's mind, because this second Burnett-produced album updates the sound a decade or so into a mesh of folky honky tonk, garage rock, and girl group ballads, with a touch of Daniel Lanois-like swampy noodling on a few tracks, making Put Your Needle Down sound a bit like Emmylou Harris' Lanois-produced Wrecking Ball as sung by the Everly Brothers' little sisters while fronting the Cowboy Junkies. That may sound like a mess, but it isn't, and this album grows on you as it progresses, with the sisters' assured singing (and songwriting -- they co-wrote many of the songs here) making everything cohere and shine. At the center of things is an old Bob Dylan song called "Dirty Lie," previously only heard as an unfinished Dylan demo. Given permission by Dylan to finish the song, it emerges here as a striking "St. James Infirmary"-like jewel with a dark, murky jazz-blues feel. Not much about this album is country, really, with the swampy, haunting "Iuka," a sisters original co-write, sounding like a Cowboy Junkies track gone deep into Mississippi folk or blues territory (the sisters are from Alabama, by the way), and there's a neat late-'50s, early-'60s girl group feel to "Black and Blue," while Boudleaux Bryant's "Lonely Island," one of the coolest tracks here, sounds exactly like a female version of the Everly Brothers singing a classic 1950s girl group ballad. This set might not be as insularly perfect as the Secret Sisters' first album, but it's ultimately just as impressive, if not more so, breaking the duo out of that "honky tonk made of fine glass" feel that could have easily trapped them creatively and artistically. This set breaks that bind and means the Secret Sisters have the freedom to go anywhere from here, and whether it's musically forward or back in time really matters little with this kind of talent. It's nice to know that they're not about to stand still.

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