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Strand of Oaks - Moves into the noisy rock album phase.
on 25 June 2014
Strand of Oaks is the project by songwriter/musician Tim Showalter which has to date tended to be positioned in that category of sensitive folk rock alongside peers like Bon Iver and Iron & Wine. For this new album "Heal" it appears that Showalter has been eating raw meat since this is firmly a a rock record and often a very hard rock record. The presence of J Mascis one of the greatest guitarists plugging into an amplifier on the opening track on "Goshen 97" tells a story in its own right. It is s thumping pile driving song with hooks to spare where Showalter declares "I found my dad's old tape machine/ That's where the magic began". The track sets the tone for a noisy and often brilliant album.
Other tracks of note include the edgy title track with its War on Drugs overtones and (bless his heart) an epic tribute to Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia entitled "JM", stretching over seven glorious minutes and ending with a guitar wig out not heard since "Cortez the Killer". Charting the difference on "Heal" between this unabashed rock approach and previous acoustic based records is nowhere more pronounced on the excellent "For Me" which has hints of the Smashing Pumpkins in its construction. Equally the "Same Emotions" sees him introduce synths and push into that territory which could actually produce a hit single. Finally the more sensitive side of Showalter returns on the final track "Wait for love" where he stretches out into a an expansive piano ballad which eventually breaks out to showers of bubbling synths and great vocals (a feature throughout the whole album).
"Heal" is really a significant shift from anything Showalter has previously done. Granted there were clues in his earlier work that he was a a songwriter who could paint on a wide palette and on "Pope Kilgradon" with plaintive songs like "Daniel's Blues" you sensed he could do a "Neil Young" to his compositions as they lend themselves to both acoustic and electric versions.This reviewer hopes that the previous purchasers of Showalter's work are not put off by this fork in the road that is "Heal" is far too great a record to ignore.