Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Live: The Secret Sisters 1/15/11, at Bowery Ballroom, NYC

Photo by Travis Huggett

My expectations for The Secret Sisters performance last Saturday night were high. Their debut album, Secret Sisters, is one that warmly played as if it was well worn and familiar the first time I heard it. It is an album that sounds like an unearthed treasure from the vintage era of country music, fitting nicely among some of my classic country and honky-tonk staples. During the duo's set at Bowery Ballroom, opening for Punch Brothers, the ladies drew from a wide range of influences and classic material, while declaring their arrival as an act that is respectful of the past, and destined to earn new admirers on their own terms.

The two sisters enthusiastically bounced on stage and joyfully asked "Are you all happy?", and with that, launched into the breezy swagger of the George Jones tune "Cry Baby Cry". With Laura Rogers on lead vocals and her sister Lydia accompanying on an acoustic guitar and vocals, the two set the stage for an evening of country music's yesteryear.

A sweetly harmonized rendition of "Devoted To You" by The Everly Brothers was next, followed by the waltz of the Patsy Cline classic "Leavin' On Your Mind". It was hard to deny the legacy of these tunes, which were sung with a gentle ease and well-balanced sweetness, effortlessly showcasing an already impressive and wide range of their vocal talents.

The Hank Williams traditional "Your Cheatin' Heart" came next, followed by a funny story about their experiences when the album was released, and a few words of praise for the sounds of the "golden days" of "honky-tonkin", specifically, tunes that pair beautiful melodies with tough words.

Photo by Travis Huggett

The ballad "Blue Eyes In The Rain" by Willie Nelson was a subtle and respectful homage before the duo unleashed a newly composed upbeat spiritual number that got the joint hollering and clapping. It's a track I'll call "River Jordan", since it was introduced without a proper name. It was a fantastic revival-style tune that was as well written as any of the superbly chosen covers the two performed during the set, which is no small feat considering all of the time-honored fare that was offered. I was impressed that the sole original song the Sisters performed fit so seemlessly into the collection. Well done.

The set concluded with a one-two punch. First, special guest Karen Elson joined the two on guitar, for a tune that had the three women sharing vocals duties. The closer by the duo was another Willie Nelson number, "House of Gold". The song was introduced with a brief story of when the girls were asked for autographs during a tour stop by all kinds of people, including a pregnant woman with a request to sign her belly, and one from a gentleman with few teeth. This was met with a jovial declaration that Jesus loves everybody in all walks of life- regardless of teeth, money, or fortune of any kind. An apt introduction to "'House of Gold".

Clearly, their touring experience with Mr. Nelson left quite an impression on the girls, this tune being the second cover the two chose to perform that was written by the living legend . The Secret Sisters would later appear during the Punch Brothers set, which was a true highlight of that band's performance, offering vocals to the Johnny Cash song "Big River".

Photo by Travis Huggett

In a  nutshell, The Secret Sisters played a highly enjoyable collection of classics that were expertly performed, along with some funny stories and banter, that made the show feel more like an intimate gathering, as opposed to a sold out room in Lower Manhattan. The duo's personalities were warm, gracious, and hospitable, inviting each member of the crowd to feel comfortable, at ease, and open to enjoying the an evening of timeless music.

The girls seemed thrilled to be visiting the city on only their second visit, and were very appreciative, thanking the audience many times throughout the performance. Honestly, it was our pleasure to have the two of them come visit us.

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