For the less informed, it might seem like the blink of an eye since Sarah Shook & the Disarmers dropped its first album but those of us paying closer attention know that last year's release of "Sidelong" was actually Bloodshot's reissue of Shook's 2015 album that she originally distributed through CD Baby. So, instead of the apparent months between Shook's debut and sophomore releases, the new album's genesis is accurately described by its title: "Years."
In some respects, Shook and her capable Disarmers still bear a lot of the same similarities to k.d. lang and the Reclines that marked "Sidelong," in that they both blended classic country with a contemporary cowpunk swagger and swing and a signature nudge and wink. But where lang's humor was both subtle in her references and broadly cartoonish in her stage antics, Shook presents an earthier persona; she's tatted up, writes and plays with the ferocity of Mike Ness and polishes her songs with a sandpaper finish. There is an uptick of melodic and melancholic sophistication on "Years," particularly on weepers like "Heartache in Hell" and "Parting Words," but Shook is perfectly comfortable in the rollicking wheelhouse she constructed on her debut, as evidenced by "New Ways to Fail" ("I need this shit like I need another hole in my head...") and the foot stomping Western swing of "Damned If I Do, Damned If I Don't" ("I didn't mean to stay out 'til the goddamn cows came home, please believe me, it just happened thisaway...").
On the surface, there might not seem to be a huge difference between "Sidelong" and "Years," as Shook and the Disarmers hit a lot of the same sonic and stylistic high points on both. The difference is a little more subtle this time out; on the first album, Shook was like a raw boxer who won by landing wild flurries of punches, and on "Years," she's become a more skilled fighter who scores with well-placed jabs and wins with controlled power.