December 13, 2021

Sarah Shook Goes All WTF


I’ve made no secret of how much I love Sarah Shook and the Disarmers. Sidelong was one of my favorite albums of the late 2010s, Years was an excellent follow up (no sophomore slump here), and her set at the Great Blue Heron Festival was one of the highlights of my entire 2019 summer. So, when she recently started dropping some new tunes I was thrilled. Giving me more Sarah Shook songs is like getting a full size candy bar at Halloween instead of the so-called “Fun Sized.” Really, does any kid find those fun?

The first of the two new songs that I listened to was “No Mistakes.” This is classic Sarah Shook. It’s perfect outlaw country full of thumping bass and steel pedal guitar along with her whiskey soaked vocals. The lyrics are exactly what you want from a Sarah Shook song, mainly that combination of anger, pain, and self loathing like “Well I ain’t makin’ no mistakes like the last time/I ain’t just keepin’ you around as a pastime.” Wonderful. I’m ready to break out the cheap bourbon and weed.

But then… then… “Talkin’ To Myself” starts to play. It’s evident from the opening riff that this song is as far from country music as Neptune is from the Sun. If this was 1977 I would think “Ah! Another new wave/punk band.” Seriously, the main guitar riff sounds like a slightly slower version of The Damned’s “New Rose”. It’s raw in a punk way, not a country way. If The Dictators decided to make a record with Patti Smith, it would likely sound like this. Totally excellent for a Sunday afternoon at CBGBs in the mid-70s. Completely weird for an outlaw country band in the 2020s.

Sarah Shook has always added rock elements to her music, creating something akin to southern rock. “Talkin To Myself” is not country with some rock in it; It’s stripped down punk without a shred of country. It’s one thing to adopt a DIY punk aesthetic. This is wholesale adoption of retro punk music and it sound lame.

As I’ve said repeatedly, the pandemic has made artists do some really odd things. Many have looked to past styles of music with varying degree of success. There have been a number of experiments that have exploded, taking the lab with them. Maybe this is one of those experiments. If so, that’s great. “Talkin’ To Myself” will become just one of many odd pandemic songs that few people will even remember, like William Shatner’s The Transformed Man. If you want to make your head hurt, look up that album. No one does “Tambourine Man” like Captain Kirk.

On the other hand, if this is what she hopes to go out with for her next album then I will be despondent. As in John Lennon recording with Yoko Ono despondent. So, this 70s punk rocker pleads with you “Please Sarah! No barely passable 70s punk. It’s just not you.” I’d rather an entire album of Dolly Parton covers. You could do “Jolene” justice. Or just stick with tunes like “No Mistakes”. That would be excellent.