PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers: Sidelong

Photo by poprockphotography

Sarah Shook is a honky-tonk badass with a chip on her shoulder and a kickass back-up band dedicated to the beauty of the profane.


Sarah Shook and the Disarmers

Sidelong

US Release: 2017-04-28
UK Release: 2017-04-28
Label: Bloodshot
Amazon
iTunes

In the black and white portrait on the cover of Sidelong, the debut album from Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, the bandleader comes across as part Walker Evans dust bowl waif and part troubled teen from a Scared Straight documentary. There's vulnerability amidst the smoke and her aggressive expression, but not one that conveys weakness. Rather, one senses deep feeling beneath Shook's stone-cold demeanor. And passion.

That depth of passion saturates this excellent album from start to finish. Shook comes on like a Kitty Wells from the wrong side of the tracks, or the right one as Shook might declare without apology, at least the more interesting side. She sings honky-tonk fables, like Wells, but unlike her polite forebear, she delivers her songs with the brass of someone who has lived the lines she sings. That's not to mistake the singer for the song, but it's a rare vocalist that sings with such conviction and hits so hard on the first impression. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers are a rare and wonderful thing, and Sidelong could be a promise of even better things to come.

Shook is a marvel at writing the kind of classic country one-liners that have inspired generations to cry into their beers or kick back from the bar looking for trouble. In "Nail", she follows a catalog of complaints with the line "I can't decide which one of us will be the nail in this here coffin." Of another lover, she sings "Sure wish I could forgive you as quickly as it seems you can forget me." Alcohol figures prominently in her chosen imagery. "Drinkin' water tonight ‘cause I drank all the whiskey this morning," she offers in "Dwight Yoakum" while "Heal Me" features her quavering voice delivering the lines "There's a hole in my heart ain't nothin' here can fill / but I sure keep hopin' the whiskey will." Her voice throughout the album is equal parts yearning and pissed, evoking a mournful sense for loves lost amidst a stubborn self-defense, or, maybe, self-defiance. The character she creates through her voice in these songs is proud and wounded with nothing to apologize for. In perhaps the best line on an album full of great ones, she sings, "God don't make mistakes, He just makes fuck-ups." It's a badge proudly worn.

If any sense of vulnerability shows through, it's a closely guarded one, as on the title track where Shook sings "I'd rather die all alone than settle for a liar / If I let myself take a chance on you and step out on the wire, / I'll be steppin' sidelong." She sings in a voice that resonates growing up along dusty roads and seeing a bit too much too young. Hers is not a gun in the purse persona; it's a knife in the boot. She'll draw you into her songs' scenarios like that cool friend who has done all the things your parents warned you not to do, telling stories of late-night bedlam and pocket drama.

These endearing songs of wounded hearts and messy problems are all laid out on a solid, unmade bed of sound provided by the Disarmers. Eric Peterson plays twang and burn guitars around which Phil Sullivan's lap steel weaves like barbed wire. Along with John Howie Jr.'s galloping half-time beats and Jason Hendrick's stand-up bass, they amplify the mood of the moment, be it anger, pain, or ponderousness over mistakes made or about to be made.

Shook released Sidelong independently in 2015 to rave reviews in her home state of North Carolina. Bloodshot Records is making this debut available nationally, with a second album already in the can. After ten years of making music, Shook is deservedly in line to become one of Americana's next big players.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Is Carl Nevill's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.