Home / Concert Reviews / The Secret Sisters w/ Doghouse Flowers @ Turner Hall Ballroom
Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014

The Secret Sisters w/ Doghouse Flowers @ Turner Hall Ballroom

Sept. 2, 2014

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Early in their first headlining date in Milwaukee, The Secret Sisters hit their Tuesday night Turner Hall Ballroom audience with an example of that rarest of country music song forms nowadays: a murder ballad.

"Iuka" fictionalizes the teenage wedding of the grandparents of the none-too-secret siblings, Laura and Lydia Rogers, into one wherein the bride offs her physically abusive pa because he won't allow her fiancée to take his daughter's hand. Killing and mayhem may be on the rise at  mainstream country concerts this year, but the deliberate taking of life in the commercial radio manifestation of the genre's lyrics hasn't been in in vogue in quite a while—much less, Miranda Lambert excepted, the kind of strong female presence the siblings project in that number.

The song, however, is an exception to the endearingly wholesome persona the Rogers sisterse project throughout their two albums. And, as many surmised from the production imprimatur of a personage so cosmopolitanly rootsy as T Bone Burnett, they haven’t really been embraced by the same radio format where troglodyte bro'ism and ill-advised hip-hop, EDM and adult contemporary affectations currently rule. But quality has a way of finding its own audience, so they had no trouble filling up the Turner Hall Ballroom’s floor with patrons who have become familiar with them via late night talk TV, NPR and other avenues where a couple of 20-something females can dress modestly and not be Daisy Dukes-clad accoutrements in an evening of drinking cheap domestic beer and cinnamon-infused whiskey on the tailgates of mud-racing pick-up trucks.

If the un-sexualized image they project runs counter to commercial country's current memes, the outworking of that innocent aura's more tantalizingly nuanced. "The Pocket Knife," the P.J. Harvey song from which their current long player, Put Your Needle Down, derives, bespeaks vehement antagonism to matrimony. This contrasts to songs such as "Rattle My Bones," a Bo Didley beat rockabilly swinger recalling Buddy Holly's “Not Fade Away," wherein the protagonist fights to maintain carnal purity with her paramour. Laura, who acts as the spokeswoman of the duo with the near silence of her sister apart from her singing, kidded about how Lydia had to lie through her teeth on the Harvey number because she is soon to be wed; she found room for self-deprecating sarcasm as well when she remarked on how Needle's explorations of the ups and downs of romance make for an original album concept.

Those downs, the likes of which Laura joshed could render her an old cat (and dog) lady in time, lent occasion for an apt comparison to recently abdicated country queen Taylor Swift's frequent songwriting fodder. The Secret Sisters’ kiss-off tunes, such as the Marshall Crenshaw-esque "Good Luck, Good Night, Goodbye," mix more playfulness into romantic dismissal than Swift's penchant for petulance. Conversely, the obsession and despair pouring through "Bad Habit" and "Let There Be Lonely" bring out their most soulful depths and the contrast in their voices. Laura may have the more fulsomely rural alto, but Lydia's higher tone possesses at least equal charm.

Much as they excel in original material, they're no slackers as archivists of a wide array of song craft, either. They're bold enough to assay fellow Alabaman Hank Williams, Sr.'s "Why Don't You Love Me," and if the influence of The Everly Brothers isn't already apparent in their harmonizing, Laura stated so explicitly by way of introduction to a rendition of their "Let It Be Me" in their brief acoustic set. Otherwise, their Secret Misters band found middle ground between the swagger of Buck Owns' Buckaroos and Porter Wagoner's Wagonmasters' honky- tonking, even on the audience request of Frank and Nancy Sinatra's "Something Stupid" from their covers-heavy debut collection. They Rogers ladies prove to be exemplary collaborators as they are re-interpreters, too, as Laura enthused over finishing "Dirty Lie" with no less a co-writer than Bob Dylan. And though Jack White wasn't there, he received props for his guitar contribution to their iteration of Johnny Cash's "Big River," with which they ended the evening.

Local country rocking fellows Doghouse Flowers probably don't have any numbers appropriate for Sunday morning congregating. But their opening set hit about hard as the headliners’, with songs of regret, reminiscence, longing and anticipation in a style fans of a  diverse array of acts from The Outlaws and Travis Tritt can get behind. Bonus points awarded for their variety of hats and Western shirts.