Sarah Shook & The Disarmers: review of the album “Nightroamer”

With a sound somewhere between the fried grunge of Toadies and the explosive roots music of Dash Rip Rock and Lydia Loveless, North Carolina’s Sarah Shook & The Disarmers quietly led the modern “y’all alternative” charge. Mixing vintage honky-tonk breakdowns with punk sensibilities, their music delves into queer and political themes, and takes refreshing dips in sobriety and self-destruction – a reminder of the bottled demons that plagued many of their predecessors.

The group’s first album Oblique broke out in 2017 with a nasty, tongue-in-cheek scream, with a breakup song about being dumped for a man “anxious like Dwight Yoakam”, as well as the endless chorus “God never makes mistakes, he does just fuck-UPS.” Their follow-up 2018 years found the band withdrawing into themselves, exploring the nuances of relationship baggage in “Good as Gold” and addiction in “The Bottle Never Lets Me Down”.

The new version of Shook & The Disarmers night owl, out now, finds them turning over a new leaf in more ways than one. Newly signed to Thirty Tigers, the Nashville recording house of Dr. Dog and Sturgill Simpson, the band’s examination of past relationships and destructive patterns now keeps a stubborn eye on the bright side.

On “No Mistakes,” for example, Shook relishes the bluster of self-improvement, adding a thoughtful twist to the callback anthem that sincerely hopes for fines instead of just begging to get back together. It’s a leap into acceptance, a joyous excuse that savors the weight lifted from acknowledging past mistakes and working to ensure they don’t happen again. “Whenever I find myself completely depressed, I realize that I am to blame,” admits Shook over the bluesy guitar accompaniment and Phil Sullivan’s pedalboard. Self-awareness echoes the opening proclamation of “Somebody Else” that “empty promises are just dirty fucking lies.”


night owl also shows the band’s sound experiments. Through their country grounding there are influences from the Americana indie rock of Wilco and the synthesized ballad of The New Pornographers, though Shook’s gritty alto is rougher around the edges than the vocals of Neko Case or Jeff. Tweedy. Exploration is based on mutual respect and mutual support of the band – after Shook composes the lyrics, the songwriting process is entirely collaborative. “I think that’s part of what gives us a bit of magic,” they laugh. “There is no hierarchy.”

True to its title, night owl is an album for shadow work, an album that seems to enjoy meeting the darker parts of yourself and admitting that you may be powerless to defeat them. “I don’t know where this road will take me, but I’d rather die than ever go back,” Shook admits on the title track, a sly reminder of progress that sends country music’s archetypal midnight runner into a frenzy. quest for personal growth.

The vulnerability of all that inner work can be terrifying, and Shook sits in that discomfort without trying to find the answers on “It Doesn’t Change Anything,” which, on the face of it, paints a surprisingly nihilistic picture of battling addiction. and depression. Yet there is an undercurrent of empathy in his lyrics. In the same verse where Shook states, “God is dead and heaven is silent,” they offer, “I have walked the path you are now walking, and I know it well.” “It’s room for someone,” Shook says of the track. “It’s just saying, ‘I recognize what you’re going through and the battles you’re facing are valid.


night owlThe uphill struggle with uncertainty is deepened as the band delves into relationships from a queer perspective that often evokes uncharted social territory. “Where’s the manual for relationships that aren’t just how to keep your man for 20 years?” Shook said of the album. “Where’s the Offbeat Situational Relations Handbook?”

They explore these complex dynamics with the same gritty optimism that marks the album’s personal depth. “If It’s Poison,” a woozy, doo-wop-inspired love song with an edge, takes a leap of faith in a new relationship that promises to be better than the last. “Maybe this time we had the right time,” Shook suggests at the start, over a swinging western waltz. Even if this particular relationship doesn’t work out, Shook is confident in his ability to handle the situation with grace, reassuring both himself and his partner that “if it’s poison, baby, we’ll know.”

This feeling is Shook’s ace in the hole all along night owlsprawling account. Now, to sustain their gaze into space is a deep faith in their own ability to persevere, regardless of what is watching them or what the outcome may be. On “Believer”, towards the end of the album, the possibilities of this revelation seem endless. “Two guesses where I’ve been, two guesses where I’m going”, they sing on a grungy acoustic riff that gradually rises. “Love her or leave her, I’m a believer.”



Annie Parnell is an animator and writer based in Richmond, Virginia. His writings have appeared in The boot, Pop Matters, Audiowoman and elsewhere. She can be found identifying native plant species in her garden, on Twitter at @avparnellor on its website, avparnell.wordpress.com.

About Laurence Johnson

Check Also

Elvis Review: Hail to the New King

Let’s listen to him for the obscene gyrations! Elvis is a tall portrait of the …