An ode to joy – album number eight is a belter.
In Heaven is the eighth studio album from Tim Showalter aka Strand of Oaks. The album is a reflection on love, loss and enlightenment, influenced, in part at least, by the need to reflect on and overcome personal grief. So, enough of the cold hard facts already. The album is a joy from start to finish. A constant stream of excellence combining powerful, emotive vocals with smart, imaginative lyrics.
There is a tempo and groove that runs through the album, binding the tracks together as one glorious whole. The record was recorded with co-collaborator Kevin Ratterman and it is Ratterman’s drums that drive the tempo and rhythm of the album from the off. Opening track ‘Galacticana’, an acknowledgement of the dark times that can accompany personal grief, in this case the death of Showalter’s mother-in-law, is a case in point. With its hook of a chorus line “I don’t want to drag you down” it is a reassurance that the intention is, despite the subject matter, to uplift and look forward, a stance that is reflected in that drum led tempo.
That this reflective approach is wrapped up in an upbeat musical blanket is a recurring theme. ‘Somewhere in Chicago’ is Showalter’s ode to John Prine and the mid-western ethos he embodied while ‘Jimi and Stan’ has the artist fondly imagining a heaven where his beloved cat Stan hangs around with Jimi Hendrix, smiling, going to shows and generally having a good time. As a subject matter for a song its originality knows no bounds but again the song is delivered in such a way as to be enjoyed as nothing more than a joyously up-tempo bouncy slice of pop americana.
There are ample opportunities for the host of musical talent accompanying Showalter and Ratterman on the album to shine but ‘Carbon’ stands out for allowing the magnificent violin of Scott Moore to take centre stage. A wonderful piece of virtuoso playing with a blistering tempo that raises an already ridiculously high bar to another level entirely.
The album is bookended with another reference to his wife’s grief following the loss of her mother. That loss and Showalter’s desire to take better care of his wife prompted him to give up drinking and rebuild their lives together. A life changing decision to move across the country from Philadelphia to Austin, Texas followed. ‘Under Heaven’ is a short, poignant album closer, its simple piano accompaniment a fitting personal message of support to his wife.
To say that the lyrics are almost irrelevant on the album would be doing Showalter a grave disservice. However, it is the overall flow and feel, the sheer exuberance of the album that leaves the biggest impression. It leaves the listener with a warm glow and a reminder of the power that music has to uplift and embrace life. And that, as Showalter would no doubt say, was his intention all along.