Record Review: On Years, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers Offer Another Unstoppable Round of Whiskey-Soaked Country | Record Review | Indy Week
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Record Review: On Years, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers Offer Another Unstoppable Round of Whiskey-Soaked Country 

When Sarah Shook & The Disarmers self-released their debut album, Sidelong, in late 2015, it was the first statement from a powerful presence on the regional scene. Shook and her band struck a balance between fearless, fast-and-loose honky-tonk tunes and professional polish—equal amounts of grit and glory. Last year, the "insurgent country" champions Bloodshot Records wisely reissued Sidelong to a national audience, raising Shook's profile along with it. The band's second Bloodshot LP, Years, bears perhaps an even greater impact.

Throughout Years, Shook displays a deadpan, no-bullshit vocal delivery that matches her unguarded, straight-from-the-gut songwriting. Dispensing with all affectation, she directs an arrow straight from the core of the songs to your ears.

Not that Shook doesn't know how to milk a moment for all its worth—for instance, when she lets out her final, despairing line, "I ain't cut out for it," at the end of the broken-hearted lament "Heartache in Hell," her subtlest vocal modulations speak to a whole world of hurt. And when she elongates "years" on the title track to underscore how long it's been since loving kindness came around, you can feel every day, week, and month of it right along with her.

But even though tracks like "Heartache in Hell" and "The Bottle Never Lets Me Down" embrace the perennial country theme of submerging your sorrows in something upwards of 80 proof, despair is far from the only emotion in play here.

The hardscrabble honky-tonker "Damned If I Do, Damned If I Don't" serves as a reminder that sometimes tippling can be downright fun, even if you have to answer for it afterwards. Meanwhile, if you ever need to summon up some clear-eyed determination in the face of travails, you could do a lot worse than look to "What It Takes" and "Lesson" for your soundtrack.

Matching their fearless leader's moves step for step, The Disarmers keep things engagingly unadorned while knowing just went to whip out the perfect terse, twangy riff to punctuate Shook's statements. The Bakersfield-worthy licks of guitarist Eric Peterson and pedal steel player Phil Sullivan framing the cathartic kiss-off song "New Ways to Fail" are a perfect example. And when Shook momentarily abandons her straight-talking style on that song for a mock-diplomatic "If I may speak with perfect candor," you know it's simply the setup for a knock-down, introducing a chorus that kicks off with "I need this shit like I need another hole in my head."

Shook comes equipped with the kind of backstory most Americana types would trade their beat-up ballcaps for—growing up, she was home-schooled by hyper-religious parents who outlawed most secular music in the house. At age twenty, she married her first boyfriend, had a child, and and got divorced—all of that has undoubtedly given her plenty to sing about. Shook also isn't shy about letting it be known she's also that most singular of anomalies, a queer country singer.

In other words, when you listen to Years, you're hearing the stories of somebody who's been through her share of challenges. But it's the kind of album that allows you to embrace the feeling of falling down followed closely by a dogged determination to get back up and soldier ahead.

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