In lieu of me discussing some strange childhood trauma that correlates to a record purchase starting the work week out, I thought I’d give the floor to my good friend and fellow writer D.M. Jones. He’s written a stellar review of the new Strand of Oaks long player ‘Hard Love’ and needed a place for it to land. I said bring it on over to my place. So here he is. Enjoy. – J. Hubner
by D.M. Jones
What has Strand of Oaks, aka Tim Showalter, been up to since his sorta/kinda breakthrough Heal hit in 2014? More of the same: touring tirelessly, morphing his “indie-folk darling” status into “indie-rock darling” status, and generally greeting the world with arms wide open. The latest full length, Hard Love, reflects Showalter’s commitment to taking it all in—the good and the bad—with an open heart. In interviews, he has referred to questing for joy rather than happiness; seeking out the joyful moments in life is attainable, while sustainable happiness rarely is. Hard Love rocks out with epic moments as it wears its heart on its sleeve. If that sounds like a description of vintage Bruce Springsteen, then you’re not far off in catching the spirit of the record. Showalter’s driving keyboards and tough guitars may not sonically recall Springsteen, but his earnestness does.
The album-opening title track builds to from a pulsing synth and breathy vocals to a sturdy marching rocker, with lines like “Calling you just to get over here, just to give a damn” demonstrating right off the bat that, as always, Showalter is more than willing to lay bare his soul. The song also shows that there’s maybe more than a little U2 lurking in his musical DNA. “Radio Kids” recalls some of the more musically aggressive moments on Heal, with lyrical vulnerability completely intact. By contrast, the spare, piano-and-vocal “Cry” works at a level of intimacy only a truly honest artist can pull off. When Showalter sings the line, “Hey, you’re making me cry,” you’re pretty sure there’s a tear or two hitting the studio microphone. The soulful “Salt Brothers” shows off Showalter’s vocal gifts, then he lets it all hang out on the raucous “Rest of It.” Following such a raveup, one might expect the record-closing tune to be something of a ruminative outro. But the 8-minute “Taking Acid and Talking to My Brother” (in which no acid is actually taken) is actually a climax to an already strong string of tracks. Showalter experienced his brother’s near death and coma, and this song channels the surreal feeling of total helplessness he and his family felt.
By fully living in the moment, the artist is better able to communicate the perception of that moment to others. That’s Showalter’s gift to us on Hard Love.