2. Sarah Shook & the Disarmers: Years
That whole thing where some idiot says, “If you look up the word ‘dillweed’ in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of (fill in the dillweed)” is tired and annoying. But it actually does sort of make sense whenever it’s used. So I’m gonna play with it a bit. If you look up the word ‘badass” in the dictionary, the dictionary book itself will slam into your face, grow arms and bash your head against the wall, then it’ll yell ‘LISTEN TO SARAH SHOOK, YOU DIPSHIT!!!!” until you do. I both applaud and will purchase any dictionary that does this.
But Sarah, with her audio/visual mix of gutter punk, outlaw, and troubadour, isn’t just a flat out, blow-your-fuckin’-head-off-in-a-showdown badass. She’s also one of the greatest living songwriters out there. And she’s only 33 years old.
Her first release, the 2013 Seven playing under the moniker Sarah Shook & the Devils, was promising, at times brilliant, but overall missing something. In 2015, she’d choose a better band name and in turn make a better album with Sarah Shook & the Disarmers self-released Sidelong. This album is perfect, and I mean fucking PERFECT. Bloodshot Records wisely picked up the artist and album last year, doing a re-release of Sidelong.
I discovered the album while reading a glowing review of it in No Depression. This was the first time in years an album stopped me in my tracks, rang in my brain like the best siren you’ve ever heard, and has sat there on repeat since. It sounds like country music should, with touches of religious fervor and agnostic curiosity aplenty. There to stay was just the right amount of slide guitar, train-engine rhythms, and vocal twangs. But what she added was plenty of punk saliva dripping off her microphone, and politically progressive ideas that, quite frankly, you just don’t hear in enough country music. The standout track “Fuck Up” is the best song I’ve heard in ten years. I’m not kidding, not being grandiose. It simply is. Here, listen.
Now, with her latest release Years, Sarah somehow manages to perfect an already damn-near perfect sound. This isn’t a huge departure from Sidelong. But the improvements lie in the overall musicianship of it. Her vocals have never sounded better, thick and meaty with more “don’t fuck with Sarah Shook” than she’s ever had before. The guitar licks are spot on, with solos to stretch her overall sound into new parts of country’s comfortably familiar territory. Lyrically, she joins the ranks of Gillian Welch, John Prine, and others, making big ideas sound simple. My favorite example comes from the title track, where she sings:
There was a time when you were good to me
And we took on new frontiers
There was a time that you were kind to me
But baby, it’s been years
Her lyrics are lean, to the point, but delivered in a ways that get you thinking. Here’s another example from the track “Good as Gold.”
I’m afraid of losin’
Not afraid of losin’ you
Cause I don’t think of you
Like a thing of mine
That I can just up and lose
So please, for the love of hell, buy this album and don’t stop listening to it.
Standout Track: “Good as Gold”
I find out that she was in Milwaukee last week, a place close to my heart and home. But unfortunately not close enough. Next time, I hope. In the meantime, check Sarah out by clicking on the word here.