Your response to this long delayed second album will depend on whether you’re a fan of the stripped down duo live with just their two voices and one guitar, or if you’re a fan of the production work of T-Bone Burnett. Burnett was the executive producer of the sister’s debut album which was a relatively restrained affair of mostly covers songs that didn’t diverge a great deal from sources. Here the duo are surrounded by many different sonic layers, with lots of percussion and guitars behind a high quotient of self or co-written songs.
Rattle My Bones lives up to its title, but the music settles down for the next song Iuka, written by Laura and Lydia with Dan Wilson. Elsewhere they co-write with seasoned writers Gordie Sampson, Brandi Carlile and Angelo Petraglia , also adding additional lyrics to Dirty Lie, written by Bob Dylan , but unfinished until now. This has a real atmosphere pertaining to the telling of untruths, tarnished ones at that.
Some of Burnett’s usual crew are present such as guitarist Marc Ribot, who is joined on some down-home dirty guitar by Gurf Morlix. T-Bone hits the strings too on several songs over a robust rhythmic base from (though not exclusively) drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Zachary Dawes. Once you acquaint yourself with this more complex musical setting, the sister’s harmonies slowly emerge from the backing to firmly establish themselves as a key factor in the overall sound. When the music is less forceful the girls deliver some great vocals, as on Let There be Lonely, one of their co-writes, as is the more 50s oriented sound of Black and Blue. That era is also referred to on Boudleaux Bryant’s Lonely Island which has a nice string arrangement in the background of its tropical-tinged scene setting.
The album overall is, in truth, a logical progression for the sisters as developing writers and with some living to take into account which brings their music to something new. Another co-write is the kiss-off karma of Good Luck, Good Night, Goodbye, which is a highlight here with their close harmonies perfectly delivering the punchline. The album closes with the up-tempo spiritual song River Jordan, which was part of their live set the last time they played here.
It is a good note on which to close a strong album which may please all their fans, but it is likely to bring some new ones to the fold. One can only hope there won’t be such a delay with the next record. It will be interesting to see where the sisters take their music if they are left to their own devices. But for now put the needle down anywhere on this album and enjoy.