Country music has always had a tumultuous relationship with its talent. Nashville is its home and always will be, but arguably some of their most talented acts have either left in protest of the country music industry and formula or the simple fact they couldn’t make it into the competitive scene.
Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings famously left Nashville after years of trying to break it, and returned to their Texas homes to make it in their own way. Singing about their lives and on their terms, inevitably being much more relatable to country music fans because it was about their surroundings and their struggles. Even writing songs that would question the Nashville music industry like Jennings’, “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way.”
The genre would later be coined outlaw country for its rebellious stance towards the institution that is Nashville. Now, Outlaw country has begun to make a come back because of the honesty and relatable nature of its song writing. Artists sing about what its like to live in the country with detail, not just an unrealistic generalized view of how people probably live in the country.
Thursday night at The Southgate House Revival, North Carolina group Sarah Shook & The Disarmers would return to what Shook called one of their favorite venues in the country. Along with Kentucky folk/ country singer songwriter Senora May opening.
The two artists have been on the rise in the country circuit playing tunes that come straight from where they’re from. Shook writing songs that make you feel as though you’re sitting on the porch drinking whiskey with her, drowning your sorrows in the bottle. Where as May writes often as a hopeful spectator of Appalachia, writing songs about the grotesque pollution and raping of Eastern Kentucky’s natural resources to addressing big topic issues through relatable and personal story telling.
May took the stage first, and when we talk about folk singers/ songwriters most associate it with artist’s today with a band around them and tight studio sound. But Senora May’s sound harkens back to a time of Woody Guthrie, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan’s early work. Where the artist had something to say and the audience would sit and listen. May’s music has the ability to silence an audience and draw in complete attention to her sound.
Her sound resembles a mix of Joni Mitchel and even Regina Spektor at times with the ways she can change her tone and pitch. Each time I see May it’s a special experience in a way that I don’t think many artists have the capability of achieving anymore. While she plays you can hear every note she its with her guitar and the stories she tells before playing are humorous and captivating but always layered with a message.
Soon after Sarah Shook & the Disarmers came to the stage and seemed incredibly comfortable with the Newport/ Cincinnati crowd. The band kicked it off with some fairly upbeat tunes including one of Shook’s singles from her first record “Fuck Up,” and “Heal Me” to name a few.
Shook’s band the Disarmers continues to impress as well with their tight sound and ability to elevate Shook’s songs that have influences of rock and even punk at times with its anger and pace.
Introducing new songs in the mix as well Shook gave the crowd a special evening along with a two song encore. It seemed as though the band is beginning to hit their stride of touring, they look and sound incredibly comfortable with each other along with appearing to be having fun even with Shook’s most pain staking songs.
This return to form of country music is best highlighted through the artists who live their stories and their songs and Senora May and Sarah Shook are products of their environments.