For their fourth album The Secret Sisters, Laura and Lydia Rogers, chose a title that matches the depth of their lyrics. Saturn Return refers to the planet’s astrological cycle of 29 1/2 years. Laura relates this cycle to the time taken when a woman “comes into her own and has this awakening in herself about who she is as a person. It can also be a very traumatic time where your whole world just seems to radically shift”. With Saturn Return she and her sister have made a record that digs deep into such big change.
The sisters have encountered upheaval in several forms, most notably loss and joy. During recording their beloved grandmothers died within a week of each other and both sisters became mothers for the first time.
Change isn’t limited to the subject of the songs either. Having had Brandi Carlile produce their previous record The Secret Sisters took this successful partnership a stage further. Building on their harmonies, so much a feature of their folk/country sound, Carlile encouraged the sisters to sing individually as well. Whether out of their comfort zone or not, the result adds a completely new dimension thus making Saturn Return their best yet. Part of that accolade should also go to co-producers Tim and Phil Hanseroth.
It is also worth remembering that the sisters nearly packed it all in after their third album met with poor reception and their record label dropped them. Touring with Carlile had not only brought them a friend but a mentor, so much so that they recorded their Grammy nominated third album, You Don’t Own Me Anymore at Carlile’s studio.
Saturn Return goes straight into the theme of motherhood. In a haunting a capella they honour their mother in a way that only comes with age, “Look upon your mother/and the silver in her hair/Consider it a crown the holiest may wear”. The pace is fast and from their typical harmonies they sing individually. Listening is like seeing swallows fly in tight formation before each soars off into its own flightpath. The frequent change of tempo underscores this stark reminder never to take motherhood for granted.
With a baby on the way ‘Hold You Dear’ is a beautiful affirmation that love will stretch in both generational directions as parenthood takes on a new meaning. The gravity of the message is matched by the almost hymnal arrangement.
The Secret Sisters don’t just muse on their own families. ‘Cabin’ tackles the trauma of an abusive relationship and the powerlessness of a woman whose words and fears remain ignored. “Makes me wanna/Burn this cabin down” combines the suffocation of cruelty and isolation.Their harmonies, guitars and keys lock horns in fury.
The Secret Sisters have always ploughed their own furrow. ‘Late Bloomer’ applies that independence of mind to pregnancy. So what if the baby is late? What more support can a parent offer their child than to pledge, “it doesn’t matter when you bloom/But matters that you do”.
‘Hand Over My Heart’ stands out as by far the album’s most pop sound. Its lightness with several “ooh, oohs” perhaps masks the seriousness of a lost and wasted relationship. But that only goes to show the versatility of this duo. ‘Tin Can Angel’ is a perfect example of their confidence to sing individually. A bluesy travelling song, the sisters again take their separate directions then return for the bridge’s soaring harmonies.
Motherhood bookends the album as, filled with sorrow, they pay tribute to their grandmothers in ‘Healer in the Sky’. A song of deep love, grief but also catharsis they dedicate their beautiful harmonies to lives well lived. “And I don’t have a doubt you will be alright/Cause I know there’s a Healer in the sky’.
If The Secret sisters have their own planetary orbit, Saturn Return marks their zenith so far. To their lush sibling harmonies they have added the extra dimension of their separate voices to create a record of emotion and empathy.