Album Review – Sarah Shook & the Disarmers – “Revelations”

photo: Elizabeth Osuna

WARNING: Some language

If you’ve had your fill and more of folks with acoustic guitars braying their little hearts out in sad boi emo country, and are seeking something decidedly more electric and serrated from someone incapable of censoring themselves or sugar coating their missives, Revelations by Sarah Shook and the Disarmers will wrap you in the warm embrace of electric and angry underground country, while also serving it up through curiously infectious melodic prowess.

Call it underground country, or call it old school alt-country. Whatever you want to call it, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers aren’t here to capitalize on any current trends. They’re here to unburden their souls, and speak to audiences who grew up hating their parents through music from the punk-infused side of country.

Long-time grassroots country fans should already be familiar with this outfit. In 2018, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers won the Saving Country Music Album of the Year for the Bloodshot Records release Years. But to say a lot has happened since then is a gross understatement.

The lineup of the Disarmers has completely changed over, including long-time right hand man and guitarist Eric Peterson who’d been with Shook from the very beginning in the North Carolina scene. Bass player Aaron Oliva, and steel guitarist Adam “Ditch” Kurtz who also briefly appeared in the Disarmers have moved on too. Also, Sarah now goes by River, though the name of the band stays the same.

In fact, you had to be a little worried if Sarah Shook and the Disarmers would even continue on, or if it would simply morph entirely into River’s indie rock project called Mightmare, which released its own album in May of 2022. But The Disarmers endure with new personnel, namely Blake Tallent on guitar who also appeared in Mighmare, as well as Jack Foster on drums, Andrew Lambie on bass, and Nick Larimore on pedal steel.

The lineup may be new, but what remains the same is Shook’s uncanny skill at melody construction, and the courage to unabashedly share candid thoughts and feelings that come in criticisms that are sometimes just as cutting for themselves as they are for others. It’s expressive if nothing else, with self-loathing and slacker qualities that evolve into the yearning for achievement, if only just to spite and prove doubters wrong.

“I built my life on the edge of a knife when nobody believed that I could…” Shook sings on the album’s second song “You Don’t Get To Tell Me.” River is fiercely independent and principled, but the first to call themselves on their own bullshit when standing on principle morphs into stubbornness.

Revelations is also about the wrestling match we all conduct with ourselves on a daily basis, fighting through mood swings and motivation issues. “Good days I levitate off the ground. Some days I can’t get out of bed,” Shook sings relatably in the title track.

But sometimes it doesn’t even matter if you pick up the inferences in the lyrics or not, which is good because sometimes it’s hard to follow them in the inconsistent mixes on the album. Songs like “Dogbane,” “Backsliders,” and the profane “Motherfucker” are perhaps ironically just fun movements of alt country rock that the genre has unfortunately gone away from recently.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t pay attention to the storycraft that River lays out in Revelations. “Jane Doe” about extricating one’s self from an abusive relationship is hard to not feel the power of, while the line “If loving you will always be a crime, then I will always be a criminal” from the final song exposes the underlying country influence to this music, despite the punk attitude.

The award winning Years or the debut album Sidelong might still be the best starting point into the Sarah Shook and the Disarmers universe. But there is no mid career slump from Revelations, or major hiccups with the lineup changes. Revelations still kicks with quality writing, great playing, and helps keep the attitude of underground country alive.


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