by Craig Howieson
A celebration of the love left behind by those we hold dearest, the latest record from Strand Of Oaks is more than a set of songs: it is a pillar of hope
Loss. Relocation. Rebirth. These three things could well be considered the pillars on which In Heaven – the latest record from Strand Of Oaks – rests. Touched by grief and uprooting himself from Philadelphia to move to Austin with his wife, Timothy Showalter has found a sense of peace and happiness in the joy that can come from living a life focused on love.
Although informed by the loss of his wife’s mother and their pet cat, In Heaven has an organic mystical flow that floats from heartache to hope – touching on the myriad of nuanced reflections in between. Showalter optimistically ponders what comes after this life, whether that is a place where his cat is chilling with Jimi Hendrix (Jimi & Stan), or where John Prine strolls the streets of Chicago for eternity (Somewhere In Chicago). And never once does he lose sight of the joy to be found in having been loved by those that have left us. His imagery may be obscure but the connections he wires in run deep.
The record’s apex, Horses At Night, may reduce us mere mortals down to our carbon components, but, in doing so, it suggests a world where we are never alone: the microscopic particles of those who have passed are never far away.
Often painted as a purveyor of straight up Americana – with the occasional psychedelic wanderings – Showalter closes the book on what has come before with In Heaven. It is a record that shifts through style and shape to expand its narrative, diving into deep country realms one moment while embracing his love of The Cure and Talk Talk the next. The glittering rafter rattling rock of Easter, featuring a star turn from The Smashing Pumpkins’ James Iha, loosens any shackles Showalter has worn to date. Allowing him the freedom to pursue tracks such as Sunbathers, a stream of conscious dreamscape that hints at a theme found in a lot of Strand Of Oaks records; the sheer magic of music. As he sings ‘We walked to the river singing Whole Lotta Love’ in the closing refrain, there is an accompanying sense of nostalgic comfort that makes you long to be strolling there with him.
It is a rare thing to find a record informed by loss that acts as such a celebration of life. Showalter sounds like a man determined to make the most of his life and leave a positive stamp on the lives of those around him. And on this album he provides us all with a tiny slice of heaven.
Check out our exclusive interview with Srand of Oaks’ Timothy Showalter here
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