The latest LP from Alabama sibling duo Secret Sisters is simply sublime. Since 2010, Laura and Lydia Roger have been earning praise for their sweet voices, honest songwriting and carefully coordinated harmonies. The sisters’ blending of rootsy country, folk, southern gospel and swing influences has gained them fans among listeners yearning for music in the vein of a more traditional country sound. High profile fans ranging from Bob Dylan to Rosanne Cash love the sisters. In 2017, Brandi Carlile helped bring the duo’s music to more listeners by coproducing their third album “You Don’t Own Me Anymore,” a triumphant collection of songs about womanly resilience. Now, the Secret Sisters have teamed up with Carlile for the second time on “Saturn Return,” the duo’s greatest album to date.
Named after an astrological occurrence that occurs about once every 29 and a half years, the album ushers in a new era for the sisters — the sisters experienced significant changes in their lives during the album’s recording, with the deaths of both their grandmothers and the births of their first children. Grappling with these transitions, the sisters reflect on loss, newfound motherhood and personal transformation through the songs on the album.
The album kicks off with “Silver,” a meditation on respecting ageing women. In the song, the sisters beckon listeners to regard as “a crown the holiest may wear” a woman’s greying hair. With the song that follows, “Late Bloomer,” a soulful track with a style reminiscent of Carole King, the sisters explore feeling left behind in love and life and then experiencing the joy of letting go of time constraints, singing assuredly, “It doesn’t matter when you bloom/It matters that you do.” Both “Silver” and “Late Bloomer” set a tone of female empowerment for the record.
With “Cabin,” the album takes on a darker tone. Here, the sisters sing from the perspective of a woman who has been assaulted. “A fire rages inside me,” the duo sing, “It does not feel like home / The one who did the damage carries on.” As their voices soar, harmonizing beautifully, the sisters possess both gentleness and rage. By contrast, “Hand Over My Heart” leans into a dreamier, pop-retro sound and includes lyrics about finding new love. Featuring guitar riffs and synthesizer effects, it’s easily the album’s most upbeat song.
The record continues with “Fair,” a stripped-down acoustic melody that tells the tale of a friend’s abusive childhood. Meanwhile, the mid-album track “Tin Can Angel,” a bluesy country song, concerns finding the strength to persist amid troubles while “Nowhere, Baby” reflects on the career challenges of musicians traveling on the road. In the latter, they sing matter-of-factly, “It’s not glamour, it ain’t fortune.” The instrumentation and blend of styles are stunning in these tracks, lending complexity and texture to the music.
Elsewhere, the tender ballad “Hold You Dear,” highlighting just piano, strings and vocals, sounds like a song sung from parent to child. It evokes a nostalgic, comforting feeling. The penultimate song “Water Witch” returns to the theme of female power, employing folklore inspired imagery of sirens at sea. This track in particular highlights the beauty and strength of the sisters’ voices.
The album closes with “Healer in the Sky,” an understated, strummed track that reflects the sisters’ shared loss of their grandmothers and recognition of their own mortality. The lyrics speak of seeing life with clearer eyes and facing the end with faith that “when my candle burns out you will be alright.” “I’ll take my chances on the cancer,” the sisters sings, “I lived my life and I’ve found the answer.” The song is a fitting end to an album that honors every stage of a woman’s life.
What’s most impressive about the sisters’ music is its understated quality. The honesty and effortlessness with which the sisters sing keeps listeners listening while firmly cementing the sisters’ place among Americana’s top talents. And “Saturn Return” is their most impressive album to date. While the sisters say that the album came out of a tumultuous time in their lives, it marks the pair coming into their own as women and artists.