Strand of Oaks

All of the songs Timothy Showalter writes as Strand of Oaks are based on true stories. And in Strand of Oaks songs, lovers get divorced, murder John Belushi’s drug dealer, go bowling with mythical giants, watch their youth slip away and commune with John F. Kennedy’s illegitimate son. Obviously, Showalter has allowed himself many liberties with what constitutes the truth, and his commingling of fact and fiction, of humor and heartbreak simultaneously distinguishes him from the bearded, acoustic-toting singer-songwriters he’s so easily compared to: immerse yourself in a Strand of Oaks record and confessionals turn into metaphor, autobiography transferred into tall tales.

This has been Strand of Oaks’ M.O. over the span of three albums, the latest of which is Dark Shores, the most direct and accomplished to date. But a little backstory. We’ll start with the basics: raised in Indiana and transplanted to equally mundane, not-quite suburban, not-quite rural Pennsylvania, MTV was the sole constant in Showalter’s upbringing. Inspired by a deep love of the Smashing Pumpkins and far lesser Buzz Bin bands. The raw and haunting guise of Strand of Oaks proved to be the optimum mode in which to tell his stories. Which were often ones of tragic results.

So it went, and even if Showalter admits he failed in his original aim, he landed somewhere just as strange. There are lonely ballads about alien abduction and ice moons, angst-ridden rockers about picnics and the quotidian economic troubles facing humble Midwesterners such as himself. In addition to being Strand of Oaks at its “realest,” Dark Shores is Showalter’s sparest record and most professional as well.

Dark Shores delivers on the promise of its title: this is a record of encroaching uncertainty, of diving into the unknown, of risk in the face of vast, unforgiving nature. But as always, within the auspices of Strand of Oaks, Timothy Showalter’s reality is flipped into devastating, absurd and always compelling theater.