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‘Sidelong’ by Sarah Shook & The Disarmers: an alt-country gem

Sarah Shook and The Disarmers

Some poor cynical souls are convinced that country music is dead. These poor folks obviously don’t explore country music as much as they should. If these cynics heard Sidelong – the new album from Sarah Shook and The Disarmers, they would know for certain that country isn’t dead. OK to be fair, this isn’t a straight country band. This band embraces a fair amount of rock and roll both in its sound and energy. However, the majority of this band’s sound is steeped in country.

"The Nail" has the feel of an old rockabilly song. In her vocal delivery, Shook captures the attitude of the female rockabilly vocalists of decades ago. You can hear it especially when she says, "You’re never home and when you are, what was once a happy home becomes a bar." The lyrics are full of venom, but the melody is so catchy, it’s easy to imagine couples swing dancing to this song on a scuffed hardwood floor.

It’s hard not to think about Lydia Loveless when you hear Shook sing. Both inject some rock and roll into their sound, and both have a vocal toughness that adds a gritty quality to the music. Like Loveless, Shook sings about being seen as a bit of a screw up. Shook sings a song called "Nothin’ Feels Right but Doin’ Wrong". This song is driven by a beat that is sure to get your feet moving. The overall feel of the song is not unlike "Ghost Riders in the Sky" in that there is a bit of darkness to the melody although it will still get you moving. "F— Up" is another song with a similar theme. In it, she catalogs the ways in which she regularly messes up. Despite the theme, this is a slow tune that is perfect for couples who want to dance.

"Dwight Yoakam" is a song that grabs the attention with the first line, "I’m drinkin’ water tonight ‘cuz I drank all the whiskey this mornin’." Yes, this is a slow, sad song, but – let’s face it – there is nothing wrong with a slow and sad country song. This song is well done and Shook sings with an ache that fits the heartbreak she sings about. The pedal steel adds to the lonesome feeling of the song. Don’t be surprised if you listen to this powerful song more than once.

Sarah Shook and The Disarmers is one of those bands that fit just as easily in a rock club as in a dark honky tonk. This album is full of great country melodies and great stories of heartache. If you’re a fan of country or alt-country, this is an album you should have. It just might be one that you recommend to all of your friends. Sidelong (Bloodshot Records) will be available everywhere on April 28.