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Strand of Oaks - In Heaven (Album Review)

Thursday, 07 October 2021 Written by Graeme Marsh

After suffering the loss of his wife’s mother in a car accident, along with the death of his beloved cat, Stan, Timothy Showalter moved to Austin, Texas from Philadelphia, quitting drinking in the process. As a result Strand of Oaks’ latest album ‘In Heaven’ faces grief and finds hope among the sorrow. 

From the very start, the excellent, slow-burning opener Galacticana aims to settle the nerves of any listeners expecting another record overflowing with remorse. “I don’t wanna drag you down,” Showalter sings, sounding like a low key Bruce Springsteen jamming with The War on Drugs. The most striking feature, though, is the brilliant guitars provided by My Morning Jacket maestro Carl Broemel.

On 2019’s ‘Eraserland’, My Morning Jacket stepped in as a whole to help Showalter flesh out his sound, and the intention was the same this time around.

Covid had other ideas, unfortunately, and although Broemel is joined by his bandmates on other tracks, their presence is noticeable by its absence. 

Producer Kevin Ratterman adds his inimitable drumming to the album, but it’s Broemel’s dazzling axe work that transforms the LP into something quite excellent. Featuring Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, the more upbeat Easter delivers repetitive yet compelling electric riffing and the epic, Verve-esque Hurry benefits from fine interplay.

Jimi Hendrix is a presence at several points, popping up as Showalter questions where exactly we go after we die. In what he describes as the most heart-wrenching song he’s ever written, Showalter’s cat hangs out with the legend in heaven, with Broemel’s magnificent guitar playing doing the greatest of all time justice in the process.

Ratterman’s militaristic drumming peppers the impressive Sunbathers but, again, Broemel won’t give up centre stage easily. Elsewhere there are a couple of unexpected cuts, notably the violin-dominated Carbon and the short piano-led closer Under Heaven, but ‘In Heaven’ bears all the usual hallmarks of a great Strand of Oaks album. The strength of the record is how it seeps in over time and there are, as always, few instant fixes. ‘In Heaven’ is, in short, heavenly.


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