Sarah Shook and the Disarmers — Nightroamer
In their bio, Sarah Shook casually refers to themself as “an outlier and a weirdo.” It is, at first glance, an accurate assessment – Shook is openly bisexual and nonbinary and has dealt with depression and addiction, all of the characteristics and human frailties that Nashville tells you not to talk about. But Shooks talks – and writes and sings – about all of it, without apology. It’s their life, after all, and if listeners are willing to travel along with Shook and the Disarmers’ fierce brand of steel-inflected cowpunk, then the band’s new album, Nightroamer, is a great place to jump on board.
Nightroamer kicks off with a way-out-west feel on the mid-tempo twanger, “Somebody Else.” The tune has Shook recalling a broken-down relationship – “I can count the days you were kind on one hand” – while also realizing that the damage done was not a result of their own shortcomings – “You’ll keep hurting me ‘til I quit hurtin’ myself/If it ain’t me damn sure gonna be somebody else.” It’s therapy for Shook, while also empathizing with the ex’s next victim (and the next, and the next). Likewise, “It Doesn’t Change Anything” carries a note of fellowship between Shook, their vices and the band’s listeners. Over mid tempo steel and acoustic, Shook cozies up to their demons – “The devil on your shoulder is your only friend/There he sits just to remind you all good things come to an end.” Bottles and needles show up, making “each day a hazy hell,” but it’s Shook’s determination to keep pushing forward that turns what could be a downer into a reluctant anthem.
Shook’s songs, even the sad ones, are always bolstered by one of the best live bands in the business – it’s why her shows are always a must-go. Lead guitarist Eric Peterson and pedal steeler Phil Sullivan trade off memorably in “It Doesn’t Change Anything,” and Sullivan particularly shines in Shook’s punchy kiss-off, “Been Lovin’ You Too Long,” which also benefits from a turn by guest organist Skip Edwards. Nighroamer also finds the band stretching their sound. “I Got This” is uptempo and positively sing-along-able, while “Talkin’ To Myself” squishes together heartland rock and a punk-pop beat with a lyrical attempt to quiet the internal crazy – “Bad brain don’t ever turn off.” “If It’s Poison,” though, represents the mix that makes the band what it is. The song spotlights a likely-doomed romance – “Only always is hangin’ ‘round this place” – and is built on a lonely steel guitar line before Shook’s crescendoing vocals go crashing into a ripper of a guitar solo from Peterson. It’s a tune you can dance to with your partner or stand off in the far corner of the bar, nodding along in agreement with every forlorn line. Either way, Shook is writing songs for the “outliers and weirdos” out there in the crowd, too.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “If It’s Poison” – The band’s shows are some of my favorites, and her crowds are legendarily fun and interesting. Lovers and loners can bond over this one.
Nightroamer was produced and mixed by Pete Anderson, engineered by Tony Rambo and mastered by Pere Doell. All songs were written by Sarah Shook. The Disarmers are Eric Peterson (lead guitar), Aaron Oliva (bass), Phil Sullivan (pedal steel) and Will Rigby (drums, percussion), with Skip Edwards joining in on organ.
Go here to order Nightroamer (out February 18): https://www.disarmers.com/store
Check out tour dates here: https://www.disarmers.com/tour
Check out our earlier interview with Sarah Shook here: Interview: Sarah Shook on Playfulness, Her Favorite Good Cause, and a Touring TipA
AND our interview with the whole band here: Key to the Highway: Sarah Shook & the Disarmers