Everyone knows, and has likely lived, the old adage, “When it rains, it pours,” to describe those phases of life when everything seems to come crashing down at once. It’s not always bad things, to be sure; but it’s always a LOT. According to astrology, the event dubbed a “Saturn return,” which happens every 28 or so years, almost always brings one of those pourings. It definitely did for the Secret Sisters, Laura and Lydia Rogers.
In a rather short span of time, they lost two grandmothers and they birthed two babies. Death and renewal symbolism aside, that’s a massive amount of emotional upheaval to metabolize. Though it might not have seemed such a lucky turn at the time, they were writing and recording an album during all of it, which gave them a container to hold all that upheaval. And, hoowee, does it ever.
The easy-to-urgent drive of the opening track, “Silver,” sets the pace as it looks back at the lineage behind them and forward to the future they are bringing forth, all while standing firmly in the right now… holding a grey hair. The piano-based “Late Bloomer” shifts the album’s gears down a couple notches to cruise in a ’70s-era, Carole King lane for a wonderfully lovely few moments.
Saturn Return really kicks in, though, with “Cabin,” an incredibly puissant statement inspired by the pervasiveness in American culture — as evidenced by the Brett Kavanaugh hearings — of women’s clarion voices being fully dismissed while men’s fragile egos are coddled and their victim-laden careers advanced. “He did not have permission, but he had his way,” they sing, in a heartbreakingly real moment, before adding the horrifyingly true point, “If I tell his secret, they won’t believe me anyway.” Having two Christian women from Alabama strike that particular match might well mean that enough is, finally, enough, when it comes to the patriarchy.
The Secret Sisters don’t rest in that reality for long, though, and offer up so much for so many throughout the subsequent seven songs. The very next cut, “Hand Over My Heart,” lifts the mood with its breezy pop melody and winking word play. The haunting character study of “Fair” pairs things down to just the basics to make its poignant point. Further in, the tender “Hold You Dear” takes a similar tack, adding gentle string swells to up the emotive ante just the right amount, while the eerily slinky “Water Witch” conjures its singular spell with the help of Brandi Carlile’s unparalleled voice.
Even though Tanya Tucker’s While I’m Livin’ recently earned Carlile a Grammy, it is the artistic diversity encompassed by and embedded in Saturn Return that truly marks the beginning of her (and the Hanseroth twins’) career as a real-deal producer. But, credit where due, the Secret Sisters also stepped fully to the challenge that faced them, even as it rained down upon them. Saturn Return is an absolute triumph on every level.