Sarah Shook & the Disarmers’ Years

cover artBy the time we reach the second track of Sarah Shook’s new album Years, it’s already the second time she’s not just saying goodbye to a lover who doesn’t meet her standards, but saying, in effect, “get the hell out, life’s too short to waste time with the likes of you.”

Years is the sophomore album from Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, following quickly on the heels of Sidelong in early 2017. I don’t want to be too quick to mix the personal with the political, but the songs on Years seem definitely part of the zeitgeist that spawned #MeToo and other aspects of the new women’s movement. You know, the one where they’re done taking shit from men.

With this one-two punch, Shook tells these men in her life “You’re as good as gold, I’m as good as gone” (“Good As Gold”) and “Well the door is over there, if I may speak with perfect candor, you’re welcome to walk through it at any time you fancy” (“New Ways To Fail”).

Shook, who hails from North Carolina, sings in a husky alto that immediately stands out. She doesn’t mince words, either, although she does string them together with punch and wit. The punch comes even in a mid-tempo shuffle courtesy of the punk rock-influenced drumming and the deadly combo of Eric Peterson’s guitar and Phil Sullivan’s pedal steel. This is 21st century honky tonk done right.

The refusal to be heartbroken even when she has a broken heart runs through most of this album’s 10 songs. “What’s left of us is just a needle in the hay,” she defiantly states in “Over You.” Shook even enlists a poet’s trick of looking at the story from the other side, but it still turns out the same. In “Parting Words” we hear the story of the breakup from the guy’s point of view, but it’s plain that she still left without any regrets or backward glances. It’s another mid-tempo shuffle, but the instrumental work really stands out on this one, particularly Peterson’s Crazy Horse-worthy solos. On the title track she’s looking for reasons to stay together but not finding enough of them: “There were the times you were kind to me, but baby, it’s been years,” she says on the way out the door.

It’s not all kiss-off songs, though. As with any honky tonk record worthy of its name, drinking and raising hell figure prominantly as well. There’s the protagonist of the swinging rockabilly “Damned If I Do, Damned If I Don’t” (who could be male or female) begging to be let in the front door when they come home at the break of day after a night of partying; and the verbal flip-off of the defiant drinker in “The Bottle Never Lets Me Down.” Here’s a live studio performance of that one.

Unapolagetically herself and proud of it, Sarah Shook is a refreshing voice in country music. Defiant attitudes are common these days, but Shook matches that outlaw spirit with strong songwriting, catchy melodies, pared down lyrics that pack a story into a few deft lines, and played by a crack band.

(Bloodshot, 2018)

Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.

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