Sound ‘Round: Hard Working Americans / Sarah Shook and the Disarmers

Hard working, hard drinking Americans

Hard Working Americans – We’re All in This Together (Melvin/Thirty Tigers)

If Todd Snider’s brilliant solo career is to be put on indefinite hiatus, there are worse excuses than fronting a jam band that satisfies his Widespread-Panic diggin’, hippie-lovin’ heart. And while Snider is kind enough to let the musicians — an All-Star cast of professional jammers — stretch their legs on this sturdy live album, it’s his knack for simplicity and empathy for the common man that largely keep things on the straight and narrow. There are few psychedelic tendencies and even fewer masturbatory displays of showmanship. These are blue-collar protest songs that owe more to Bo Diddley’s boogie than Bob Dylan’s romanticism. That’s why the best performance is a hellfire rendition of Hayes Carll’s “Stomp and Holler” and why the finale is a take on Chuck Berry. It’s also why Snider’s greatest foe is the bottle that brings him to the brink of madness. Not that reality is much better: corporate robber barons, crooked cops, fluoride in the water. So credit their ebullient crowd-pleasing on “I Don’t Have a Gun,” wherein Snider urges the congregation to transcend the drudgery. “This could be the night of your entire life. Why not? Why not? Why not tonight?” All aboard the Mystery Machine to peace, love and happiness.  GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Stomp and Holler” / “I Don’t Have a Gun” / “Run A Mile”

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers – Sidelong (Bloodshot)

Maybe it’s because I’m unimpressed with self-destructive behavior, or maybe it’s because I’m writing this review with a hangover, but I want more from this North Carolina smart-ass. First, some backstory. She disavowed mom and dad’s strict religious upbringing without disregarding their relationship. Devout atheism is her creed, bartending her day-job, bisexuality her preference and guitar came only after her son was born. It’s hard living and you feel it on each and every one of these 11 honky-tonk ditties replete with whiskey and other swill. Shook’s gruff, quivering alto signifies her economic status, and her dark humor teases a budding lyricist still prone to the rookie mistake of equating debauchery with artistic authenticity. “I can’t cry myself to sleep so I drink myself to death.” “There’s only one thing to do and that’s to drink you off my mind.” “Nothin’ feels right but doin’ wrong anymore.” Tear-in-your-beer poetry, sure, but she says more about herself on the song in which she swears off booze. Too bad the follow-up hits the bottle harder than ever. Not all is lost. The one person she makes recompense to is mama in the form of a heart tattoo. How compelling and sober. GRADE: B+

Key Tracks: “Keep the Home Fires Burnin’” / “Make It Up To Mama” / “Misery Without Company”

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