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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Secret Sisters - Oran Mor - 23/01/12 (Glasgow)

Muscle Shoals, Alabama carries its legendary status in the world of music with relative ease.
Whether it's within country music, rock and roll, the blues or more contemporary sounds you will find the fingerprints of that Southern city all over popular music.
Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and many more have all made the pilgrimage to either Muscle Shoals itself, or the the studio that was relocated to the neighbouring city of Sheffield, and successfully managed to imbue their material with some of the magic that the area possesses.
Due to this patronage people with an interest in the history of the development of popular music have turned their attention on Muscle Shoals and tried to explain why one place could have such a profound influence globally.
It has been the subject of essays and books, but for me the attention to detail seems to often miss the point.
Sam Philips claimed that the WLAY radio station that aired out of Muscle Shoals with a mix of black and white artists was an influence on Sun Records, and there in that one comment it says it all.
This melting pot of cultural influences and musical alchemy was the catalyst that sent a shock wave across the world as Sam Philips, amongst others, aided the cultural birth of rock and roll.
So is it any wonder that as the years past that artists from across the world, who had gained a certain degree of success, would then use their money to make a trip to the crucible where much of what they were influenced by had originated from.
It seems over simplistic when I put it like that, but does it have to be any more than just what it is?
Now here we are in 2012 and the latest act to push Muscle Shoals back into the collective consciousness of the world is not one making a trip to the area, but instead one who actually originates from the city.
The name of the band is The Secret Sisters.
Real life siblings who sound like the Yin to the Everly Brothers Yang, and last night I had the great pleasure of seeing them perform a set as part of the annual Celtic Connections festival that Glasgow hosts.
Now this is where it gets difficult.
How can you describe an experience that was so gut wrenchingly beautiful?
Can you imagine cold crystal clear water tumbling untainted down a mountainside that's bathed in sunlight?
That's what Laura and Lydia Rogers sound like.
There's something organically perfect about how they harmonize with each other.
Not perfect in a sterile way as we hear so often from the mainstream pop divas, but instead perfect in an ongoing living, breathing and evolving manner.
It's a tactile performance and they carry the audience with them from beginning to end.
I don't think I'd be upsetting too many people if I said that country music is so often seen as a guilty pleasure, but that seems to be because over the years it has become a self perpetuating parody of itself.
Yet when you go back to the roots then there's nothing to be found that should elicit feelings of shame for liking it, and it's that sort of country music that The Secret Sisters deal in.
Real roots music.
A style that has heart and soul and speaks to you regardless of whether you were born in the shadow of an Appalachian mountain or a tenement flat in Glasgow.
As the majority of their début album is made up of covers it's no surprise that the live set mirrors that, but to claim that they are a covers band seems to be wilfully missing the point.
What the sisters do is similar to what Jack and Meg of the White Stripes did with the blues.
They create a bridge from the present into the past that allows them to take us back to the roots of something that is rarely heard now unless it's accompanied by the crack and pop of the needle in the groove.
It's hauntingly beautiful at times, and as an introduction to them the very strong set of covers and originals could be considered as a strong statement of intent that leaves no one unaware of where they are coming from, or where they are going.
This is a country act and they're not going to apologise for expressing themselves as such.
During the show the ghosts of Bill Monroe, Hank Williams are conjured up and George Jones is honoured with a rendition of Why Baby Why, and then there's more, so much more.
The whole performance is faultlessly evocative and the mix of material indicates that when The Secret Sisters get around to releasing their second album – an album that will comprise completely of original tracks - they will be able to cement their reputation as musicians that can stand proudly next to their heroes of yesteryear.
When they next visit Glasgow I would have to whole heartedly say that everyone should grab a ticket and experience them singing to you, but only after I've bought mine.
They have the voices of honky tonk angels, and while that may sound clichéd I'm sure anyone being newly introduced to them will forgive me for dishing out such a hackneyed plaudit.


  1. What a great write up!! I had the pleasure of first hearing them at our family reunion in 2009, as it was the first one I had been to being a new to the Letson family.. I'm so glad I got to experience that and hear them in person before they went and got famous on us!!.. Love you girls!!

  2. Thanks for the nice review!

  3. A great duo to see live!!! One guitar & 2 beautiful voices, their harmonies are superb & with 1 album to their credit, and another later this year - can't wait to see/hear them again. They're brilliant - and whilst their live sound is sparce,it works - and their banter between songs is humourous and informative. Would recommend them if you like bands/artists such as Gillian Welch, Laura Cantrell etc.