Sarah Shook & the Disarmers represent a welcome shift in the ongoing evolution of Roots music, namely the blending of the contemporary scorch of Punk and the three-chords-and-the-truth interrogation lamp of traditional honest-to-God Country. Shook is a songwriter of unparalleled power, offering lyrics that detail unvarnished and unfiltered tales of failed relationships, the alcoholic reverie that precedes them and the hungover misery that follows, as well as other well-trodden subjects in the Country music canon.
The quality that Shook and her top-notch band, the Disarmers, bring to this party is the brash ability to transform something obviously familiar into a bold new form that has had new life and energy breathed into it. A good part of that transformation comes through Shook herself. She’s a whirlwind of musical intensity, whether warbling a steel pedal weeper that shows her k.d. lang side or throwing down a stomp-and-holler hoedown that howls like Nikki Lane channeling Joan Jett and Janis Joplin, as respectively evidenced by the songs “The Way She Looked at You” and “Devil May Care,” which were featured on a 7-inch single released early last month.
Shook was born in Rochester, New York and raised by a fundamentalist Christian family that lived a nomadic life; they relocated to North Carolina after numerous moves when Shook was 19. By then she had already taught herself piano and guitar. In 2010, she formed her first band, Sarah Shook and the Devil, and recorded the Seven EP, which was followed by a new band, Sarah Shook and the Dirty Hands.
After the Dirty Hands’ dissolution in 2013, Shook assembled the Disarmers with her longtime guitarist Eric Peterson, Jason Hendrick on bass fiddle, Phil Sullivan on lap steel and Two Dollar Pistol drummer John Howie Jr. The band began touring in the Chapel Hill region and amassed a sizable fan base, eventually recording their debut album, Sidelong, in 2015. The regional/national buzz around Sidelong attracted the attention of prominent Roots music label Bloodshot, who signed Shook & the Disarmers in 2017 and immediately reissued their debut. The band’s sophomore full-length, Years, was released last April to more acclaim.
In the studio, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers play with a barn-burning intensity, but onstage their incendiary fury is multiplied exponentially. Break out your asbestos leisurewear and get Disarmed this Thursday, Jan. 17 at Southgate House Revival. Click here for tickets/more show info. Cincinnati's Heavy Hinges open the show.