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In the black and white portrait on the cover of Sidelong, the debut album from Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, the bandleader comes across as part Walker Evans dust bowl waif and part troubled teen from a Scared Straight documentary. There’s vulnerability amidst the smoke and her aggressive expression, but not one that conveys weakness. Rather, one senses deep feeling beneath Shook’s stone-cold demeanor. And passion.
That depth of passion saturates this excellent album from start to finish. Shook comes on like a Kitty Wells from the wrong side of the tracks, or the right one as Shook might declare without apology, at least the more interesting side. She sings honky-tonk fables, like Wells, but unlike her polite forebear, she delivers her songs with the brass of someone who has lived the lines she sings. That’s not to mistake the singer for the song, but it’s a rare vocalist that sings with such conviction and hits so hard on the first impression. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers are a rare and wonderful thing, and Sidelong could be a promise of even better things to come.