Reviews of good albums we overlooked this year...
The Secret Sisters come preapproved by two of the only music men whose opinions still matter, reverent roots aficionado/super-producer T Bone Burnett and slightly-less-reverent roots aficionado/producer Jack White. Burnett executive-produced the duo's self-titled debut; White produced and played on the Sisters' debut single, a blazing retro-country cover of Johnny Cash's "Big River" with bottomed-out guitars that suggested Jimmy Page at a Lead Belly tribute.
The mangy "Big River" didn't make it onto "The Secret Sisters," for reasons that readily become apparent: It's one of the year's prettiest and most pristine discs, a scrubbed-clean country-folk outing that seems to have sprung, fully formed, from 1945.
Burnett and the Sisters (real-life 20-something siblings Lydia and Laura Rogers, from Muscle Shoals, Ala.) take the disc's old-timeyness, its amber-preserved purity, very seriously: The Sisters roll through an exquisitely chosen (and analog-recorded) collection of nostalgic Americana covers that range from gentle honky-tonk (the traditional "Do You Love an Apple") to swinging honky-tonk (a cover of George Jones's "Why Baby Why").
Their harmonies are a work of art, their grip on their material unerring: If the Andrews Sisters had recorded an album of Carter Family songs during World War II, it would sound just like this. The Sisters never break character, never let on that they know it's really 2010. "The Secret Sisters" is a cheerful anachronism: Impossible to replicate, tough to forget, it's the year's loveliest museum piece.
Recommended tracks: "My Heart Skips a Beat," "Why Don't You Love Me," "Why Baby Why"