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FUV's New Dig: Strand of Oaks

by Darren DeVivo
A A

Heal
Strand Of Oaks
Dead Oceans Records


Strand of Oaks is Timothy Showalter, a songwriter and musician who hails from Goshen, Indiana, a small city not far from South Bend. His latest album is an autobiographical study of self-examination and healing. It documents Showalter's effort to assess his life, identify the undesirable, and will himself towards change for the better.

It's a deeply personal work of rebirth, appropriately titled Heal. From the first notes, it's clear this isn't going to be a slow, methodical and gentle cleansing of a man's soul. This is the work of an artist who is determined to repair himself and, one way or another, get to a positive place — a primal therapy session driven by rock anthems.

The genesis of what would become Heal took place over the course of a few weeks, with Tim writing dozens of songs. He then assembled the team that would help him flesh out the sound, including acclaimed producer and engineer John Congleton, who mixed the album.  The album's power is provided by the melodic punch of pounding drums, overdriven guitars, distorted — sometimes anguished — vocals, and a sonic bed of electronic instrumentation.

With the first song, "Goshen '97," it's pretty apparent that we are being introduced to the teenaged Timothy Showalter. What follows is a cathartic, autobiographical, coming-of-age journey through the artist's mind. We experience what Tim experienced: loneliness, rebellion, hostility, sadness, heartbreak and, eventually, rejuvenation.  Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis provides the lead guitar work on that track.

Thundering and pounding drums power the title track. "JM" is an ode to the late Jason Molina, the Midwestern artist who was Songs: Ohia and later the frontman of the Magnolia Electric Co. (Molina died last year at the age of 39 from alcohol-related organ failure.) The music of Songs: Ohia provided comfort and companionship during the dark times for the teenaged Showalter. In "JM," we are reminded that music has the power of liberation, and that is exactly what is happening on Heal. Elsewhere on the album, there's "Plymouth," which rides along on a strong melody, while "For Me" sounds like a lost Black Keys song.

The demeanor and urgency of Heal was also influenced by the life-and-death drama that Showalter and his wife experienced this past Christmas day, when the couple was involved in a near-fatal car crash. It happened to be just before Heal was to be mixed. Despite Tim being seriously injured and shaken, the mixing sessions went on as scheduled, but his brush with death definitely had an impact on the resolve of the album.

In the end, Heal is not a pretty listen, but it is an invigorating one that ultimately becomes a study on the power of music, the acknowledgement of one's ability to self-"heal," and an energetic celebration of life.

From the FUV Vault: Strand of Oaks in Studio A.

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