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The Secret Sisters put a new one down

By Jeffrey B. Remz, May 2014

In October 2010, The Secret Sisters released their down home country meets the Everly Brothers debut to much acclaim. Positive reviews ensued. Having T Bone Burnett executive produce your introduction to the music world didn't hurt. Laura and Lydia Rogers hit the road hard, opening dates for the likes of Ray LaMontagne.

The Rogers sisters may not have enjoyed any hits from their self-titled disc, but they put their name on the map.

But then the Secret Sisters seemingly went off the radar screen. There's only so long you can tour behind one album. Last year, they only did about 20 shows, and the wait for a sophomore disc continued.

That finally ended in April for the Muscle Shoals, Ala. sisters with "Put Your Needle Down," produced by T Bone Burnett.

"A lot of it had to do with trying to find the right time," says Laura Rogers of the long gap in between releases. "The powers that be don't always fit in with your schedule." The older of the sister duo, who grew up singing in church, indicated that some of the delay resulted from Universal Republic Records needing to figure out the right timing to release the music, something she referred to as "icky label industry stuff."

The Secret Sisters sing

Rogers take some of the blame as well. "A huge reason why it took so long was when we had came off the road, we had been so busy from touring that we did so little song writing," she says.

"Everybody said, ‘okay, it's time to think about album two…We spent weeks and weeks writing just the two of us."

"A whole lot of that time was spent writing the song and making the sound evolve in the right way," Rogers says.

But Lydia opined that in the end, all is good. "It was really frustrating to wait so long, but the record became everything we wanted it to be."

The changes are quite apparent from subject matter to song writing to sonics.

"We were presented as angelic, charming southern women who were very sweet," says Laura of the debut. "It was a good representation of who we were at the time. We've both grown up and gotten our feet wet, gotten our hearts broken, took on a little bit more of maturity as opposed to the first record."

The stamp of Burnett is all over the new disc. While the debut was filled with spare sounds on the traditional side with a bunch of well-known covers ("Why Baby Why" from the Everlys; "My Heart Skips a Beat" from Buck Owens," "Somethin' Stupid," the Frank Sinatra hit, and "Why Don't You Love Me" by Hank Williams), "Put Your Needle Down" is a different breed of music.

"With the first record, with the covers we chose, we tried staying close to the originals," says Laura Rogers. "There wasn't a whole lot of reinterpretation."

Burnett added a lot of atmospherics and density to the sounds. That's apparent from the get go with their take on Brandi Carlile's "Rattle My Bones" where the sound is raw and fast with the Rogers pushing it vocally. (They also co-wrote "Black and Blue" and "Bad Habit" with Carlile).

"I don't know if it was conscious effort that we made," says Laura Rogers, "We let it come to us."

Lydia says Burnett played a big part. "It definitely is. We can credit a lot of that to T Bone. He's a master at all things sonically. We kind of let him take the reins at that."

Some of the changes involve adding strings and "some really incredible drumming" from Jay Bellerose, according to Lydia.

The songs understandably may give listeners the idea that the Rogers sisters have not been faring well when it comes to relationships. That's partially true, but Lydia is tying the knot this fall on her sister's house.

"A lot of the songs do deal with deal with typical heavy subject matter," says Laura. "There's energy, (which) counteracts the darkness of the subject matter. I haven't worried if it was too much."

The haunting "Iuka," penned by the sisters with Dan Wilson of Semisonic fame, is about a couple who run away to Mississippi to tie the knot and escape the woman's abusive father.

"The beauty of being an artist and making an album (makes it) a beautiful snapshot of where you are in your life," says Laura, who endured a break-up. "One day I'm going to look back, and I'm going to think that I was in a really wide range of emotions. You can hear anger, emotion, independence…This encompasses a lot of different emotions that people feel when they're in a difficult relationship."

One big change is that on the debut, the sisters wrote only 2 of the 11 songs. This time out, they penned 9 of 12. "We had more to say," says Laura. "We wanted to bring in multiple players of musicianship. Truth be told, it would have been a shame to not let that shine a little bit."

One of the songs they co-wrote was "Dirty Lie" with the other songwriter being Bob Dylan. "Dylan had a lot of extra songs that he had never recorded," Laura says. "I think they were from the ‘80s, unfinished demos."

Through Burnett's relationship with Dylan, he sent over about half a dozen unfinished songs. The Secret Sisters opened for Dylan one time in Australia. "We have mutual friends in the music business," Laura says.

How did it feel to be entrusted to finish a Robert Zimmerman song? "If you're the kind of artist who can take it and not be nervous about sharing a song with Bob Dylan, I don't think you know your place," Laura says. "We still to this day don't feel worthy of that credit. We were both really nervous. In a way, we had to turn off that it was a Bob Dylan song originally. Just record it and run with it. I guess that's why he gave us permission because he trusted us on some level."

Does Dylan like what the finished product? "We secretly don't want to know," Laura says.

Instead of covering well-known country songs, they opted to give their take on British singer PJ Harvey's ""The Pocket Knife."

With their sophomore effort under their belts, The Secret Sisters are on the road again. "It's a completely different thing because we added a band now," says Lydia. "We're traveling with two guys. We are really trying to replicate the sound we have on the record as much as possible. Everything is different. We added a tour bus. We don't travel in a rental car any more."

''We're very proud of what we accomplished in the making of this record. - the confidence that comes with that that we didn't have the first time around. We' have had such a good time. It's been so rewarding."

Her sister is also confident, "We feel we have come into our own with this record."

But after such a long break, will the fans be loyal? "I think it's normal for any artist after being off the road the for a while to wonder if people are going to remember you or if you've lost your chops," says Lydia. "There's always that part of you that wonders what it will be like. Luckily for us, we picked it up pretty quickly and people didn't forgot about us."