10 June 2017

Strand of Oaks - Hard Love

Strand of Oaks is the stage name of one Timothy Showalter, an American artist who lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  He released his first album in 2009 and 'Hard Love' is his fifth record which was released in February 2017.  He has opened for acts such as Ryan Adams, Iron and Wine and Jason Isbell.  With a basic image on the cover of this album and an awful shade of pink (at least to these colour blind eyes), it is a prime contender for Cover Roulette - the game I play when I review an album based only on the cover.  It is not the best cover in the world, but that sort of gained my interest just for being sort of retro and basic.  But let us see how the album sounds......

01 - Hard Love

With an atmospheric drone, gentle percussion and sparse guitars, ‘Hard Love' is a song about the love, about how it is not the right kind of love and the problems arising from a septic relationship.  There is an empty quality to this song, the style is one that has been used by many producers of American TV teen dramas when a young couple split up, so it feels as if it has all been heard before and it is a bit of an average open.  It is a decent enough number, but it is not a track that works as an opener for me.

02 - Radio Kids

Now, this is much better!  It just sparkles like the stars in the sky and it feels like the emotions are boiling over on this one, with a massive riff, a hook that gives so much each time it is played and a powerful performance behind the drum kit as well.  It truly invokes the spirit of Ryan Adams on this one, you can hear that influence even if you were tone deaf.  However, even though it has the tone of regret and sadness, it still shines like a diamond on this album - top tune of the record.

03 - Everything

Feedback?  Ok, I was not really expecting that on here, given what has past so far.  This time, the ghost of Mark Lanegan is brought to the surface and there is a dark feeling to the song.  The thing about this song, as good as it is performed - it just reminds me that I want to hear the new Mark Lanegan album and that is something I feel bad for thinking/writing in a review about another artist.  But it feels like a tribute to the man, it is good and a solid rock number, but I am still distracted by it.  Sorry for that one.

04 - Salt Brothers

Another atmospheric number, a slow burner that is in no rush to get anywhere.  But this one is all about the journey for me, the guitars and keys on this one are deliciated and precise that it is hard not to enjoy the song.  It is a song that improves with further listens as it is not an attention grabber, but that is never a bad place to be as it usually means that the song becomes a firm favourite with people.

05 - On the Hill

I can see what Strand of Oaks was aiming for me, I can get the concept.  It is a song based about his experience at the Primavera Sound Festival, it is based in an atmospheric alternative folk/rock experience that has been well trodden over the years.  It is performed very well, but there is something about this song which is distance to me.  It feels like there should be some sort of engaging element here, the tone of the sound is one that I would usually adore.  But I feel disconnected from it, as if there is a barrier in the way and it is just not quite there.  It is decent, but there is no emotional reaction here for me.

06 - Cry

We are back in Ryan Adams country on 'Cry', a keyboard introduction with Strand of Oaks singing about heartbreak, with all the lies and deceit out in the open and the emotions are laid out bare for everyone to see.  It is one that aims for the heart, but it ends on a strange note.  It feels like you are overhearing a conversation on a bar and you can hear a lot of whooping and general background chatter.  It takes all the emotional build up of the song, pushes it to the side and it sort of ends on an awkward note.

07 - Quit It

This song could have been so much more, it could have really have been a show stopper.  The music has a kick to the beat that is begging for that extra bit of noise, one that is about to reach a level that would make it a world beater.  But 'Quit It' does not hit that louder level which for me would have got the song over, really cemented it in the album.  Do not misread this, I think it is a good song and the music on 'Quit It' is one of the best of the album.  But the ending does not raise the bar as much as it could have, it ends sort of suddenly when you are expecting the stomp to keep on going. 

08 - Rest of It

'Rest of It' is a decent Alternative Country/Rock number with a steady beat and it is all about a person who is the bane of your life, but somehow you are not walking away from this unhealthy situation, no matter how much you bitch about it.  A lot of people have been in that situation, it is not something I would ever want to be in myself.  But back to the song here, it is average and does not really go anywhere for me.  Once again, it is something I should be loving and there is no engagement.

09 - Taking Acid and Talking to My Brother

Ending the album is the eight minutes plus song about the experience that Strand of Oaks had when he was visited by his brother in during a near-death experience and feeling like he was on acid due to lack of sleep.  It is a long, rambling song that gives every possible riff time to grow, every note time to be absorbed and it ends the album on an interesting and thought provoking note.  It is a song to get lost in, one to invest your emotions in, but it feels out of place on this record.  There is little to no connection with the other material, so it stands out against the rest.  But it is not a bad song either to be honest, it just feels like it was written for another album.

This album is a decent alternative country/folk rock album in the veins of Ryan Adams, Strand of Oaks has a rich voice that reminds me of both Mr Adams and Mark Lanegan (too much so on one number) at time, which mixes well with the music he has created here.  The melancholy sound of the album is going to work best when the nights are long and you need a companion for those dark hours where the world is harsh and cold.  But like those raw emotions, the album leaves me cold at times and it does not reach the heights it is clearly aiming for.  It is a good record, but not one that jumps out and grab your soul.  That for me in the rub on this album, it sounds just good enough, but somehow that is also there is not enough on this album to raise it to the next level.  It is wanting to be your new heartache album, one that is clearly wanting to be an emotional retreat for your soul. But it is a little too earnest, a little to precise in nature that it gives it an unnatural feeling for me in places. This is not a poor album, it is decent in places, but it is one that I have found (and I am truly sorry for the pun) hard to love.

5 out of ten - Not for everyone, but played well

Top track -Radio Kids

You can purchase Hard Love on Amazon here.

You can purchase Hard Love on the Strand of Oaks Bandcamp page here.

You can visit the Strand of Oaks website here.

You can follow the activities of Strand of Oaks on Facebook here.

You can stream Hard Love on Spotify here.

You can stream Hard Love on Deezer here.

You can stream Hard Love on Tidal here.

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