Alabama duo The Secret Sisters shot to fame in 2010 with their debut album, and have worked with the likes of Dave Cobb, T-Bone Burnett and Jack White. However, after being dropped by their record label, sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers didn’t know if they’d make another album. Thankfully, with the help of crowdfunding and Brandi Carlile – who also produced their third record – the pair returned this summer with You Don’t Own Me Anymore. In support of the album, they made their first and only UK appearance of the year at London’s Union Chapel as part of the London Folk & Roots Festival.
Lydia and Laura came on stage to rapturous applause and it was clear from the off that they were both incredibly moved by the venue and the fact that people had come out to see them perform. They opened their set with Tennessee River Runs Low, the lead track from their latest album, and right from the start they showed off their stunning harmonies and sweet yet rich vocals with an a capella intro before going into the song’s driving rhythm. I loved the vivid imagery in the lyrics and the slightly 1950s-style doo-woop feel in parts too. It got a great crowd reaction and set the tone for an evening of wonderful music.
Throughout the show the sisters mixed songs from across their three albums as well as a few covers, including their take on Bill Monroe’s The One I Love Is Gone and Simon & Garfunkel’s Kathy’s Song (which led to an ongoing joke about who was Paul and who was Art). They also told stories about the background to each of the songs and their journey as a band, including how they got their start, their very Southern mum and possibly sneaking a Hyde Park swan back to the States, alongside plenty of gentle bickering which kept the crowd laughing throughout. It’s clear they have a really close bond and that came through incredibly strongly on stage.
However, what tied the whole set together was the girls’ absolutely beautiful vocals and wonderful songwriting, blending their sweet voices with emotional yearning lyrics. Particular highlights included the atmospheric murder ballad Mississippi, which showed off their skills at creating characters, as well as the poignant Bad Habit and the soaring vocals of Tennessee Me. I also really liked Black And Blue, which the band wrote with Brandi Carlile and which reminded me – in melody terms at least – of Sam Cooke’s Wonderful World.
One of the standout moments came with Dirty Lie, a song that the duo wrote from a demo provided by Bob Dylan. It gave both girls a chance to shine and showcased the different sides to their voices, bringing out Laura’s bluesy tones whilst Lydia showed off the smoky, jazzy touches in her voice. You Don’t Own Me Anymore, the title track from the new album, also saw the sisters talking very openly about the difficulties of producing the new album and was a brilliant mix of foreboding and sadness, yet also carried an air of defiance.
Laura and Lydia finished their set with their version of a gospel song, Flee As A Bird. You could hear the pain and emotion in their voices, particularly Lydia’s, yet they also showed great control; the song was emotional, but without being over the top. They then did a short a capella version of You Belong To Me, returning to the retro girl group feel of their opening song and bringing the show full circle.
Overall I was utterly wowed by The Secret Sisters. They have some of the most outstanding vocals and harmonies I’ve ever heard live, and I love how evocative their lyrics are too. I think very few people in the audience at the Union Chapel would have been failed to be moved at some point and I’m genuinely excited to see them over here again soon. They announced that they’ll be back in the UK next spring so do whatever it takes to get a ticket; I promise you won’t regret it.
Set list: 1. Tennessee River Runs Low 2. The One I Love Is Gone (Bill Monroe cover) 3. Mississippi 4. Black And Blue 5. Kathy’s Song (Simon & Garfunkel cover) 6. Dirty Lie 7. Tennessee Me 8. Bad Habit 9. You Don’t Own Me Anymore 10. He’s Fine 11. Flee As A Bird (traditional cover) 12. You Belong To Me Performance date: Monday 6th November 2017