Strand of Oaks turns out to be primarily Steve Clements playing drums and Timothy Showalter writing the songs, singing, and playing the bass and guitar. (And the piano and synths when required too.) A few songs have guest appearances (most notably J Mascis for guitar duties on one song), but generally it's the Showalter show.
It's a confessional album, as the liner notes attest: it "forced [him] to deal with the last ten years of [his] life." It's very good rock: melodic with elements of pop, but with an edge and a reality that hits home. Excellent, solid overall. But then the song "JM" happens...
Strand of Oaks - "JM"
The song is about the late Jason Molina, the frontman for Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co, who died at 39 in 2013 due to complications resulting from his battle with alcoholism. It's a heartbreaking tribute to someone who clearly touched Showalter. The song is, simply, a tour de force. Head and shoulders above the rest, it's clearly the best song on an already excellent album. An inspired and moving tribute both musically and lyrically.
Take seven minutes out of your life and listen to the song. You will not regret it.
What shines throughout the album is a wistfulness and nostalgia, fueled by self-examination and remorse; Showalter re-lives times that meant so much to him today but will never come again. It's a very well-crafted confession, and we are all better for being able to listen in.
CD Placement Rating: Car iPod.