Sibling Night with The Secret Sisters
For their first gig of 2015, The Secret Sisters (Lydia and Laura Rogers) showed just how far they’ve come since bursting onto the scene in 2010 with their self-titled debut, produced by T Bone Burnett. Back then they were admittedly green about the music business (and life in general outside of Alabama), and wrote only two songs for the album. This evening they pulled mightily from their sophomore effort, Put Your Needle Down, twelve tracks of mature songwriting that also features “Dirty Lie” a low-down slinky number they co-wrote with Bob Dylan.
Let that sink in.
The Secret Sisters co-wrote a song with Bob Dylan. Consider this, though: they took the bones of a compelling song and made it that much better.
Even they couldn’t believe it. During the recording of Needle, Burnett handed over four demos that Dylan had sent specifically to the sisters, telling them that if they wished they could choose one song to finish and record it themselves. I had a chance to chat with the sisters backstage before the show. Older sister Laura said it was surreal to hear these unformed, rough demos. “You could hear him mumbling things where he didn’t have lyrics yet. It was very intimidating, but such a great opportunity that we couldn’t pass it up.” They chose “Dirty Lie” as the song that most spoke to them, a version of which appears on the Verona Rehearsal Tape bootleg from 1984.
Although it’s one of many standouts on the album, to hear these confident country, blues, folk, rock and gospel numbers on record pales in comparison to hearing them live in concert — goosebump moments abounded.
It was definitely sibling night in Duluth as the sisters were backed by a trio of brothers: Cheyenne Medders (himself a Dylan lookalike) on electric guitar, Will Medders on bass and Carson Medders on drums, a tight and dramatic band providing a perfect compliment to the sisters’ close harmonies (eerily close, folks — you just don’t know if you’ve never heard them in person).
“Black and Blue” and Brandi Carlile’s “Rattle My Bones” echoed the pure rock ‘n’ roll energy of Buddy Holly and Bo Diddley. In the intro to the sweet “Tennessee Me” the opener from their debut album, Laura remarked, “So many songs about heartbreak come out of Nashville because it has such a high concentration of dumb men.” She talked about the guy who broke her heart, then married another and “They had a baby … who’s not very cute. Oh, I’m just kidding about his ugly baby.” The running joke throughout the night was Laura’s recent bout of bronchitis, and anything she said could be blamed on the drugs and the nebulizer she was hooked on. If the singing and songwriting don’t work out, Laura could make a decent living as a standup comic.
The brothers were excused for a bit when the sisters paid homage to the Everly Brothers and Pete Seeger on “Let It Be Me” and “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” The former was played at Lydia’s recent wedding, said Laura, who then added “It was playing when I signed the papers to get my fourth cat.” I doubt the albuterol in the nebulizer had anything to do with her hilarious comments, as it in no way affected her singing. I imagine a quick and biting wit is an everyday occurence with her.
The last number without the band featured Lydia on vocals and guitar in a cover of Patsy Cline’s “Leavin’ On Your Mind.”
Upon the band’s return they launched into the rebellious “Pocket Knife” juxtaposed against the bubble gum pop of “I’ve Got A Feeling” from their debut, revealing just how much they’ve matured in attitude and swagger. A cover of Bill Monroe’s “The One I Love Is Gone” proved their own sense of command, as the band started too slow for Lydia who stopped the song and told them to speed it up or “we’ll be on this one for 20 minutes.” Another highlight in a night of full of highlights was the sisters’ first attempt at a murder ballad, “Iuka,” based on the town of Iuka, MS, a stone’s throw from their Alabama home. Iuka was notorious as a place where under-aged couples could get married with no questions asked. “We’d never written a murder ballad,” said Laura. It showed, as they got a bit carried away. “We killed everyone.” Voluminous audience laughter ensued.
“Good Luck, Good Night, Goodbye” was the obvious choice to close out the show, with a killer guitar solo by Cheyenne Medders. After a standing ovation, a two-song encore featured the soulful, torchy jazz of “Bad Habit” before the sisters went off mic for the finale of the old Billy Rose classic “Tonight You Belong to Me,” a fitting sign-off as it was a hit for another sister duo, Patience and Prudence (as well as the Lennon Sisters) in 1956.
Obviously, the Secret Sisters know where they’ve come from and exactly where they’re going. And Laura is not a drug addict.
Nashville singer/songwriter Dean Fields opened with earnest songs about memory and grace from his five albums, highlights including “More Than I Deserve” and “Timmy and the Train” from Any Minute Now (2013), and as if on cue, a freight train rumbled by in the dark. Magic. Fields will return to Duluth next month with Tim Easton, and I’m looking forward to hearing more from him.
Photo by Tom Garland.