When Sarah Shook & The Disarmers released Sidelong four years ago, the irreverent quintet’s debut turned heads around the world. Then 2018’s follow-up Years hooked everyone from Rolling Stone to Vice. Then, the first two albums turned into a tease: The pandemic shut down the world, just as The Disarmers finished recording Nightroamer in Los Angeles. The band has had to sit on the album––until now.
Nightroamer is worth the wait. This is still a band whose recordings beg to be heard live, either in a punk-rock hole in the wall or honky-tonk roadhouse. Shook’s voice is crystalline––but boozy, too, with a cadence that sounds comfortable resting in the pocket before lagging, jumping, or cozying up to the offbeat. What initially may feel like a slip is actually a stroke––and listeners cannot get enough.
Backed by white-knuckle playing from Eric Peterson on guitar, Aaron Oliva on upright bass, drummer Jack Foster, and Adam Kurtz on pedal steel, Shook has pulled from Hank Williams, Elliott Smith, the Sex Pistols, and Shook’s own inquisitive, open, outlying self to create pop-savvy, honky-tonk punk that’s both an escape and a reality check––a re-opened wound and a balm. Relationships and life-changing realizations are dissected with honesty and humor, three tight minutes at a time. Shook is also a visible, vocal member of communities often relegated to societal margins. Out as bisexual since they were 19, Shook recently came out as nonbinary as well. For Shook, openness about their identity––as well as struggles including depression and addiction––is just as much about self-preservation as it is offering an outstretched hand. For Shook, it turns out that being honest is both liberating and an obligation. It’s also a form of therapy the rest of us can sing, scream, or two-step to.
Produced by Pete Anderson (Dwight Yoakam, The Mavericks, Lucinda Williams), Nightroamer is the confident next step fans hoped The Disarmers could take.