Sarah Shook & the Disarmers are known for their roots-driven sound, but on their new third full-length, Nightroamer, Shook’s country aesthetics battle for space alongside some pretty healthy indie inclinations. The production is a bit denser on this recording compared to its predecessor, 2018’s Years—keyboards occasionally factor into the arrangements—and Shook herself gives off less of a pissed-off vibe. She’s still spent too much time loving wastrels, though, and this clutch of songs details it all. Shook is among the performers impacted by Bloodshot Records’ problems with nonpayment of artist royalties, which delayed the release of Nightroamer as she found a new label home on Thirty Tigers. The album’s first single, “No Mistakes,” sounds like a dark night in a bar, with pedal steel propelling a somber mood that’s partly Shook’s natural disposition and partly too much booze. It’s a mode where she’s most effective; she gives the waltz-time title track a graceful ennui equally indebted to her country forebears and relatively contemporary rock vocalists. Even if Shook is inclined toward a lack of cheer, she arrived at that outlook in earnest: On album opener “Somebody Else,” which focuses on an abusive relationship, she sings, “If I can’t help myself / You’ll keep on keepin’ me down.” Given her history of bad deals and bad relationships, the more pop-oriented approach and funky drum backing on “I Got This”—pleasant enough that you can imagine it licensed for a TV commercial—is a surprising change of pace. That song does unfortunately disrupt an album’s worth of scuffed-up performances that seem capable of converting the most country-averse listener. Even the occasional and inauspicious use of Auto-Tune (“It Doesn’t Change Anything,” “Please Be a Stranger”) can’t blunt the dusty splendor of Shook’s latest batch of reflections.
Sarah Shook & the Disarmers’s Nightroamer is available for pre-order through their website. The album drops 2/18.