Loss and grief make up the bulk of the themes on In Heaven, the eighth record from Strand Of Oaks. From “Jimi & Stan,” a song about singer Tim Showalter’s friend Stan passing away and jamming in heaven with Jimi Hendrix to “Somewhere In Chicago,” about the late John Prine’s departure, death plays a big role in this latest offering. And so does the collective global loss from the ongoing pandemic. But thanks to Showalter’s deft songwriting and his beautifully emotive vocals, there is a lining of reassurance and optimism felt throughout that ultimately overtakes the album’s mood.
Like his earlier efforts, Showalter draws on an eclectic mix of classic rock and folk to create an expansive atmospheric sound. On a song like the beautifully mellow “Somewhere In Chicago” you can hear traces of The Clash’s “Spanish Bombs,” whether intentional or coincidental, making the already great song sound comfortably familiar. And the musically upbeat nature of “Jimi & Stan” takes a song about death and loss and makes it celebratory. Lyrically, “Sunbathers” is one of Showalter’s strongest tracks in recent history with layers of meaning that are revealed on repeated listens.
“In Heaven was created with so much love and my greatest hope is that it connects with people and provides a momentary space for reflection, joy, catharsis and whatever else someone might be looking for in their life,” said Showalter recently. “Music is magic, and I feel like the luckiest person in the world that I’m allowed to share it.” Recorded in Los Angeles, Showalter was joined in the studio by The Smashing Pumpkin’s James Iha and My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel and Bo Koster among others.
There is a massiveness to the music here that belies the folk-rock label Strand Of Oaks is usually classified under, and many of the songs here have an expansiveness begging for arenas rather than the traditional indie rock and folk clubs. Given the past year and a half, the themes of In Heaven are likely to resonate strongly with a global audience.
Photo credit: Merrick Ales
Actually, Stan (from “Jimi and Stan”) is his cat who he had to have put down.