Photo by Merrick Ales
Every week we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Strand of Oaks’ In Heaven.
Strand of Oaks is a project that has evolved alongside Tim Showalter throughout the stages of his life. From the very beginning, it’s those reflections that have been at the center of his music — a collection of human thoughts, emotions and experiences, all touching and relatable in one way or another for listeners. But, for the most part, his albums have always been an outlet of sorts for him to process existential questions, which is both audibly and lyrically apparent in previous albums.
In Heaven surfaced somewhere around a sensitive period of time for Showalter, when both his cat and his mother-in-law passed. For the singer-songwriter, the loss presented a multitude of changes in his life. He moved from Pennsylvania to Texas, found sobriety and even took up painting as a hobby. While, of course, the grief is present on his album, it’s what comes after the grief — those headfirst changes — that make the album so worthwhile and such a divergence from anything he has worked on before as Strand of Oaks.
The album flourishes with quaint, mellow sounds, quietly rolling with an acoustic guitar that elevates the album in a way that makes it feel so apt to be called In Heaven. Steeped in atmospheric moments to make you feel like a tiny blip in time, perusing through each of the songs is a soothing and comforting experience. The album’s softer direction also carries a maturity to it as Showalter looks beyond heartache, instead opting to find joy.
Titles like “Horses At Night,” “Somewhere In Chicago” and “Under Heaven” achieve massive peaks without ever having to escalate in a racket of hard strums or powerful percussion, but it’s not to say that they’re absent across the new album when songs like “Hurry,” “Carbon” and “Sister Saturn” all boast a glory of head-turning sounds. This latest release also sees Showalter packing in synths, which is the first time he has included them in any album since 2014’s Heal. Similarly, it seems as though revisiting both previous and new collaborators like Carl Broemel and Bo Koster of My Morning Jacket, James Iha (heard on “Easter”) and Kevin Ratterman as producer all play a part in the way In Heaven developed.
The release is a welcomed look into a window of hope and positivity for fans of Strand of Oaks, and for anyone who looks toward music to find comfort. The warmth of Showalter’s vocals emanates like a pulsing bonfire after a blistering chill brought in by a cold front. A kind reassurance following melancholy, In Heaven truly signifies a new chapter.