In the liner notes to the White Stripes’ seminal Elephant, released 10 years ago this spring, Jack White writes:
“This album is dedicated to, and is for, and about the death of the sweetheart. In a social plane, impossible to exist, and in memories, past defeating present. We mourn the sweetheart’s loss in a disgusting world of…the thirteen year old tattoo, the hard attitude, devil may care, don’t call your parents, drink, insult, thank only yourself, and blame the rest if you don’t get buried in the boot of the rocker, the trunk of the car, and they get laughs, they get home late, they missed the rent, they forgot your money, they’ve got a new friend, they won’t be told they are wrong…
Honesty in bloom, heart on sleeve, life ever exposed and safe, courtesy to them and all you know, cinnamon and cider mills part last night’s drenched roof shingles, down and cotton covered breath, out in the open with nothing to hide, mention of soft paper and pine, soda powder and brown paper bags, angora and hound’s tooth, youth and canvas, fresh color, blind chance and forward stumble, scarlet mood, and white ivory shimmering laugh, safe in mind and comfort in home, absent of flies and anger, blankets of your own, peaches in cellar, subtle hair and skin, sand and leaf, felt napkin and clothing line, warm air from heating vent, snow on ground, reunions of sane unforced presence, motherly intervention held in suspense, enraptured holy sight, reception in halls, your Sunday go to meeting, your helping hand, your summersault, your attic, your home and your preservation, so simple, so untouched, this is as wise as raven and easy to trust, yet have they known, and yet may they wonder, with words and thought and thorn, this spirit and persona under.”
It’s no secret that sincerity has been making a comeback lately (see the success of Moonrise Kingdom, or even The Hunger Games), but surely the days of innocence evoked by White’s closing passage have passed—the sweethearts have gone, never to return.
Enter the Secret Sisters.
Comprised of actual sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers, the duo burst onto the Nashville scene in 2010, collaborating with Jack White (of course) on a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Big River”. Their debut album was executive produced by Americana aficionado T Bone Burnett, and was released later that year.
Image-wise, the sisters exactly fit the description of sweethearts—performing in vintage dresses, with hairstyles and lipstick that evoke a bygone era, the ladies seem ready for a date at the soda shop—but it’s their distinctive, heavenly sound that captures imaginations and induces tears. Intricate harmonies that could belong only to sisters, wound around irony-free traditional country tunes, are positively exotic today. The Secret Sisters manage to make songs that are 50 years old sound fresh, while never straying from the original spirit of American country music.
Songs on the album can be divided neatly into two categories: upbeat honky tonk, and bone-chilling ballads. George Jones’ classic “Why Baby Why” and Buck Owens’ “My Heart Skips A Beat” keep things country, while “I’ve Got a Feeling” casts the duo as the female version of the Everly Brothers. An original song, “Tennessee Me”, conjures up lazy summer days on the front porch:
Ballads like “The One I Love is Gone”, “Do You Love an Apple”, and the cover of Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid” emphasize the almost supernatural harmony between the sisters. In their closing cover of Hank Williams’ “House of Gold”, they sigh,”What good is gold, and silver too, when your heart’s not good and true?” As the final harmonies swell and the last chord is strummed, one wonders how this world could deserve something as good as The Secret Sisters.
Note: In 2012, The Secret Sisters’ song “Tomorrow Will Be Kinder” was featured on the Hunger Games soundtrack. They have recorded their second album, and it is due for release in 2013.