Review: Sarah Shook & The Disarmers Return to Pedal Steel-Driven Approach on ‘Revelations’

Videos by American Songwriter

(Abeyance/Thirty Tigers)
4 out of 5 stars

1 stars – Pass
1.5 stars – Mediocre
2 stars – Average
2.5 – Above Average
3 stars – Good
3.5 stars Great
4 stars – Excellent
4.5 stars – Exceptional
5 stars – Classic

If there was any doubt Sarah Shook was influenced as much by indie rock as by the insurgent country pulsing through their three previous albums, it was dismissed with Mightmare (2022). Here the non-binary musician, who now goes by the first name River, delivered an EP under the Mightmare alias, emphasizing the wiry rock influences bubbling under Shook’s previous work with the Disarmers.

But it’s back to the pedal steel-driven, C&W-associated approach for the appropriately named Revelations. As on Mightmare, the North Carolina-based singer/songwriter takes production reins (for the first time on a Disarmers record), recording 10 songs in two days. While that implies rushing the process, these tracks dial down some of the more outlaw, even punky threads woven through the band’s first three albums in favor of medium tempos focusing on the frontperson’s distinctive, often snarled vocals. 

Clean of alcohol and drug dependencies, Shook sings with a confident swagger marrying some of the rock (“Give You All My Love”) and even blues strains (“Nightingale”) less obvious in earlier titles. “I’m still adjusting to writing songs as a sober person … a lot of the themes are just about being a working person and navigating mental health and relationships,” Shook reflects in the promotional notes. To that end, the vibe is generally less frisky, yet injected with a gutsy, lived-in, mature urgency. 

Shook still shakes sinewy riffs for “You Don’t Get to Tell Me” and the pounding “Give You All My Love,” skewing to a Neil Young & Crazy Horse vibe. There’s a defiant stance highlighted by ramping up the pedal steel/six-string combination on the former, thumping drums on the latter, and going NSFW for the jaunty, galloping “Motherf—er.” 

The concept of “country rock” seems clichéd at this late date, but Shook and band exemplify how that amalgamation remains effective when the writing, singing, and lyrical concepts are as sharply conceived as on the illuminating Revelations

Photo by Brett Villena / Courtesy Shorefire

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