Damn but I love this record.
I didn’t expect to. For whatever reason I am suspect whenever I begin to hear a bunch of chatter about a given artist. Too often it ends up being for a flash in the pan artist that is merely doing a good job of grabbing the style of the moment rather than someone with a deep foundation making a great record. Especially when an album has been floating around for awhile like this one. Usually I end up disappointed by an album that can’t match the hype it comes packaged with. Not the case with Sarah Shook and the Disarmers.
The first sign that this record might be better than good was when Bloodshot Records picked it up. As purveyors of some of the best alt.country records ever put out the Bloodshot folks tend to know the difference between a wanna be and the real deal. Even having Bloodshot pick up the record wasn’t enough for me to buy in though. I tend towards having a Mulder heart but a Scully mind when it comes to new bands. I want to believe but spend perhaps too much time looking for flaws.
Then I heard the record.
Right away I was onboard. From the opening track, “Keep the Home Fires Burnin”, I knew that I would be developing a nice relationship with this album. Like many great records “Sidelong” has a timeless quality to it. The arrangements and instruments tend toward the traditional but the swing of the record and the lyrical content are modern as fuck. Missing is the cupcake and unicorn sheen that seems to permeate many country records released today. In it’s place is the natural sound and feel of people actually playing music together.
In the past few years as Americana/Alt.country/whatever has blown up I’ve encountered a lot of singers that do a very affected and stagy version of “country” singing that tends to be the vocal equivalent of a tech company CEO wearing overalls and a straw hat. Hearing the genuine article is jarring at first. So many poor imitators can make it hard to recognize the real deal. With the caveat that I haven’t seen them live I will state that on this record Shook’s voice sounds about as true as anything I’ve ever heard. A bit of hard living and some sad sack introspection rule the day without resorting to cliche or rote lyrical combinations. “”Sidelong”, “Dwight Yoakam” and “Keep the Home Fires Burnin” are the strongest tracks here, I suspect most people will enjoy “Fuck Up” a fair amount too.
The quality of the songs, Sarah’s voice and some fantastic guitar work form Eric Peterson have kept me coming back to this one again and again. I really wish more country records sounded like this. No new ground is being broken here, just a collection of great songs. And that is enough. More than enough.
Essential listening for sure.