So I was trying to write a punchy little introduction to this review that explained how Sarah Shook & The Disarmers’ new album Years is full of personality and brutal truths in the best outlaw country tradition, but then I realised that I had to start with one simple point: you need to buy this right away. Scroll to the end of this page and click the link. Go on now. Part with your cash and fund this band’s future because it’s a tough life out there for working class musicians and they need our support more than ever. If you’ve already got it then that’s awesome, well done. So with that sorted let me explain why this is one of my favourite albums of the year so far.
Sarah and the Disarmers released their first album Sidelong in 2015 and last year it was reissued by her new label, the brilliant Bloodshot Records (also home to the lovely Ruby Boots whose album I reviewed earlier this year). Now the album came out just as I was starting this blog and for some reason I didn’t even listen to it let alone review it, which now looks like a really stupid oversight on my part. By all accounts Sarah has taken time to develop her songwriting and singing in particular before releasing this follow up. Her distinctive punky warble is still present but she has strengthened the quality of her vocals.
Throughout the album she sings about all the crap she’s had to put up in life and isn’t it ironic how the worst relationships end up inspiring the best songs? I was hooked the first time I heard opening track ‘Good As Gold’, so much so that I had it on repeat about twenty times straight and months later I’m still not sick of it. Thankfully the melancholy subject matter never stops the melody from being infectious enough to sing along.
‘New Ways To Fail’ has the most perfectly brutal lyrics, but it’s also the catchiest honky tonk floorfiller you’ll hear all year. She’s going to ‘speak with perfect candour’ and roars out her frustrations about life and love with the killer line ‘I need this shit like I need another hole in my head’. Everyone knows how that feels.
Over You is about the aftermath of a fight when she’s sick of the mess they’re in, ‘I can’t cry anymore I’ve had enough/ You can’t tell me that this is love?’ The more downbeat introspective tone of the music echoes her mood.
Drinking songs that reference Merle Haggard can verge on cliche but just like Jaime Wyatt , you know this girl doesn’t walk the line – she is the real outlaw deal. ‘The Bottle Never Let’s Me Down’ is slurred and woozy like a night out that ends up in a screaming match and smashed glass on a dive bar floor. And ‘Damned if I Do, Damned if I Don’t’ sounds like it’s being sung by Elvis’ drunk granddaughter as she staggers home from the best night out of her life.
On Parting Words the quality of the band shines through and credit must be given to the Disarmers: Eric Peterson on guitars, John Howie Jr on drums, Aaron Oliva on bass and Phil Sullivan on pedal steel for bringing such energy to all these songs. What It Takes has a rockabilly core to it and that combination of country and punk is perfect throughout. On Lesson she’s learning from her mistakes and is ready to move on. The chorus really bites.
Heartache in Hell is just a brilliant song title, and lyrically the whole album is full of fucking genius moments of humour and heartbreak. The pace of the songs is so fast that when this slow song hits it really cuts deep. Vocally she is able to tone down the punky sneer and turn it into something that sounds bruised and beautiful.
The title track was the last song written for the album and so she rakes over the coals of her dead relationship one last time. She sings ‘There was a time when you were kind to me but baby it’s been years’, stretching the final word out with wistful resignation. The restart at the end of the song signals a more hopeful future.
Sometimes the right songs just come along at the right time and Sarah Shook has given us ten of them. Years is cool as fuck and catchy as hell, so get out of bed and quit complaining about the state of ‘country music’ because this is the twangtastic tour de force you’ve been waiting on.