Sarah Shook & The Disarmers Mix Country-punk and Bitingly Sharp Lyrics on ‘Nightroamer’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Sarah Shook & The Disarmers have been sitting on Nightroamer, their third effort and easily their finest record yet, since before the pandemic. And just in case you were worried, the group’s brand of North Carolina honky tonk spiked with a classic punk rock ethos (and more than a hint of musical influence) is still just as satisfying as before, but Shook has also grown immensely as a writer and singer. On Nightroamer, she uses her unique vocal style to her advantage like never before and mines her own experiences for some of her most personal, and bitingly sharp, lyrics to date.

“It Doesn’t Change Anything,” chronicles Shook’s experience with addiction and mental health issues. Backed by a deceptively simple musical accompaniment, her lyrics are free to shine through and take over the song (“The devil on you shoulder is your only friend/There he sits just to remind you all good things come to an end”). “I struggle with depression and substance abuse as so many others do and those of us who come from fanatical religious backgrounds often seem to have the worst time of both,” said Shook. “It seemed fitting to use empty religious imagery to describe the helplessness of addiction and the void of depression, both perpetuated by the same snare of trauma.” 

Elsewhere on the record, she tackles love and relationships with the same cynic’s view on the stellar “I Got This” as well as on the album opener, “Somebody Else,” with a bit more ominous tone backed by pedal steel and an increasingly louder guitar. 

Nightroamer also has a much more expansive sound compared to the first two records, in part thanks to the production work of Pete Anderson (best known for his work with Dwight Yoakam and k.d. lang). While he certainly doesn’t over-polish the band’s authentically gritty vibe, the record sounds bigger and Shook and her band mates take full advantage, filling in all of the open spaces. Her cadence, much like that of Willie Nelson, has a tendency to lag a bit behind the music from time to time, just adding to the charm. 

It’s been close to four years since Sarah Shook & The Disarmers last put out a full record. The wait was certainly out of their hands thanks to a once-in-a-generation global pandemic and the simultaneous implosion of their former record label (RIP Bloodshot Records). But across 10 songs in the span of just over 30 minutes, the band manage to more than make up for lost time. 

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