A few years ago, I was trawling YouTube for some country music and came across a track called Dwight Yoakam. The video was a black and white, homemade-looking affair of a dishevelled, possibly drunk, probably hungover girl who belted out the first line of the song in a throaty, yodely draw “I’m drinking water tonight cos I drank all the whisky this morning…”. I was hooked. Now, a few years later, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers have released their second long-player, Years.
Years treads a similar path to that first album, Sidelong, which was a raucous affair of fuck-ups, one-night stands who sound like Dwight Yoakam, and redemption through rye whisky. This latest effort, though, has a slightly less desperate air about it. It’s still a breaking-up-moving-on-unlucky-in-love-get-me-a-drink-quick affair, but Sarah seems more in control of her demons. The songs are more rounded and less edgy than before; with the writing and lyrical wordplay undeniably living in the world of country, they have that quality of sounding familiar the first time you hear them. The band deliver a fuller sound too, with the not-too-overdone solos giving the tunes a nicely balanced feel. The Disarmers sound like they’ve travelled thousands of highway miles together.
A rockabilly beat flavours a couple of the tracks, especially ‘Damned if I do…’, and there are a couple of down-beat, tears-in-your-beer tunes thrown in for good measure - ‘Parting words’ and ’Heartache in Hell’ - but generally this album whips along. Sarah’s smoky, hillbilly drawl is truly distinct and adds a level of authenticity to her tales of all-night drinking and all-day heartache, differentiating her from the retro-hued tones of Margo Price or Nikki Lane. You tend to believe the tales she’s telling, but, o be honest, it sounds like she doesn’t really care if you believe her or no - no apologies are offered or accepted.
The noir-esque ‘The bottle never lets me down’ sets this unapologetic tone, preferring the company of the always reliable bottle to her obviously not very reliable, soon to be ex. How very country. The final track, ’Years’, is the stand-out for me, a plaintive tale, regretting how the good times were over before the protagonists even realised.
If you like your country full of hungover heartache, with regrets thrown out like yesterday’s empties, then this may be the album for you. I suggest you check out Sarah Shook’s first album, ‘Sidelong’, as well. In my opinion, it grabs you that little bit harder than its slightly more polished, younger sibling. If ‘Sidelong’ was drinking straight from the bottle, ‘Years’ has opted for the slightly more refined, but equally as effective shot glass. Cheers.