BWW Review: The Secret Sisters' SATURN RETURN is the Perfect Album for Your Mercury Retrograde
I'm only recently discovering my own musical identity outside of the things I listened to in my parents' cars growing up. I discovered The Secret Sisters around the same time I discovered horror movies, around the same time I discovered a new kind of higher-stakes storytelling. "You Don't Own Me Anymore" was a masterclass in harmony and tension. It was a collection of those kinds of higher-stakes stories; the haunting beauty of a song about murdering your child taught me more about writing a character than pretty much any play or movie or TV show I've ever watched; naming and admonishing Davey White on "He's Fine" showed me an unapologetic way to channel anger and heartbreak. The whole album shrieks unapology, except it's not shrieking; it's speaking quietly but pointedly, in harmony and in unity. The title song is anthemic. It's feminine angst; less loud but more directly expressive than any other album of its kind I'd ever heard.
Their latest offering, "Saturn Return," came out today. It's less angsty than its predecessor, and much more reflective. The album is a perfect act of storytelling told in two soaring voices, voices that know hurt and heartbreak and all kinds of love. They speak clearly. They feel deeply. They effortlessly hold attention.
Both of The Secret Sisters, actual sisters Laura Rogers and Lydia Slagle, have given birth in the time since the release of "You Don't Own Me Anymore." Motherhood is all over the new album, but so is age. So is the passage of time. So is grace.
"Saturn Return" opens with "Silver," an upbeat, spiritual reflection on how the hell the woman that raised them kept herself together while raising four children. The sisters revere the hard-won silver hair that belongs to mothers-and celebrate their own gray hairs, their first signs of age, of maternal maturity. "Saturn Return" makes the case for growing older, if you can do it surrounded by people and things you love. It's observational and specific. Gray hair and lines in faces are trophies, not avoidances.
That relationship between age, wisdom, and love is expressed no better than on "Hold You Dear," which was released as a single a few months ago. The song explores romantic and platonic-familial love and the absolute beauty in the here-and-now. "I know these days will pass away," they sing, "so I will hold you dear."
"Hold You Dear" is not alarmist. It's not mid-life crisis. It makes me think about why I didn't vibe with Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," which, to me, felt like the terrified ramblings of a man being dragged kicking and screaming past the prime of his life (Don't worry, y'all! Brad Pitt can still wield a flamethrower and save Sharon Tate into his fifties). "Saturn Return" doesn't believe in a single prime of one's life-it is optimistic about every new experience, every new age. It feels like home.
Home doesn't always mean soft and comfortable, though-songs like "Cabin" keep "Saturn Return"'s beautiful sentimentality in balance. The lyric tells the story of a girl revisiting a place where she was once assaulted by a man who was never held accountable. She wants to burn the cabin down. There is an ice cold edge to this song; it's a brutal remembrance. If I'm continuing down this road of comparing the album to 2019's Oscar-nominated films, "Cabin" is "Saturn Return"'s "I'm angry nearly every day of my life" à la Laura Dern in "Little Women." The stories we tell ourselves are sometimes drenched in honey, and it is sometimes easier not to deal with the trauma that made us who we are. The sweetly, sharply sung "Cabin" existing on this album just enhances its narrative structure; it's proof that rage and gentleness can exist in one body, in one memory, in one song.
From what little I know about astrology, your "Saturn Return" hits when you're around 30 years old, and it provides clarity from all of the garbage you experienced in your 20s. Saturn is in exactly the same place it was when you were born. I praise the sisters for their immaculate harmony and their gorgeous individual voices, but could this convergence be why the fully-unison "Fair" stands out so much for me? It's the song most clearly situated in the sisters' shared past, a memory of a girl they used to know who had a rough upbringing. The synchronicity makes me think they've spent a lot of time talking about this girl and refining the way they remember her. "Fair" feels true, but that unity makes me think it may not be accurate-and how could it be? They haven't known this woman since she was a child; they can imagine the circumstances of her life, but it would be unfair to make sweeping, harmonic assumptions about a person who exists in the present tense.
The Secret Sisters released this album smack-dab in the middle of a Mercury Retrograde, which means given circumstances feel crazy and screwed up and reflective. That astrological double whammy makes "Saturn Return" feel aspirational for me; I assume it makes people at other age markers feel secure, or comfortably contemplative. It makes me feel like the early-20s weirdness I'm living right now-my late bloomerness, if you will-will pass. Age and hardship are natural. As long as you can hold on to love, you always have something to look forward to.
Stream or purchase "Saturn Return" here.
Originally from Muscle Shoals, AL, The Secret Sisters have released three acclaimed full-length albums since debuting in 2010 including their most recent, 2017's You Don't Own Me Anymore, which was produced by Carlile and the Hanseroth twins and received a nomination for Best Folk Album at the 60th Annual GRAMMY Awards.
SATURN RETURN TRACK LIST
2. Late Bloomer
4. Hand Over My Heart
6. Tin Can Angel
7. Nowhere, Baby
8. Hold You Dear
9. Water Witch
10. Healer In The Sky
THE SECRET SISTERS CONFIRMED TOUR DATES
March 25-Brooklyn, NY-Murmrr Theatre‡
March 27-Boston, MA-City Winery‡
March 28-Philadelphia, PA-City Winery‡
March 29-Alexandria, VA-The Birchmere‡
March 31-Newport, KY-Southgate House Revival‡
April 2-Chicago, IL-Old Town School of Folk‡
April 3-Wausau, WI-The Grand Theater‡
April 4-Eau Claire, WI-Pablo Center at the Confluence
April 5-Minneapolis, MN-Varsity Theater‡
April 6-Omaha, NE-Waiting Room‡
April 8-Des Moines, IA-Wooly's‡
April 9-Kansas City, MO-Knuckleheads‡
April 10-Saint Louis, MO-Off Broadway‡
April 23-Phoenix, AZ-MIM Music Theatre
April 24-Palm Springs, CA-Alibi
April 25-San Diego, CA-Casbah^
April 28-Los Angeles, CA-Lodge Room^
April 29-Berkeley, CA-Freight & Salvage^
May 1-Portland, OR-Revolution Hall+
May 2-Seattle, WA-Neptune Theatre+
May 8-Nashville, TN-The Basement East
May 9-Florence, AL-Shoals Community Theatre
May 10-Atlanta, GA-Terminal West
June 10-Bury St. Edmunds, U.K.-The Apex
June 11-Bury, U.K.-The Met
June 13-Gateshead, U.K.-Sage Gateshead
June 14-Sheffield, U.K.-Firth Hall
June 16-Leeds U.K.-Brudenell Social Club
June 17-Milton Keynes, U.K.-The Stables
June 18-London, U.K.-Union Chapel
June 19-Bristol, U.K.-St. George's
June 21-Tunbridge Wells, U.K.-Black Deer Festival
June 24-Paris, France-Les Etoiles
June 25-Lier, Belgium-L'Avenir Site
June 26-Amsterdam, Netherlands-Paradiso
June 27-Rotterdam, Netherlands-Rotterdam Bluegrass Festival
August 27-Tonder, Denmark-Tonder Festival
‡with Logan Ledger
^with Leslie Stevens
+with Anna Tivel