February 17th, 2017: A big day for rock and roll. On Friday, records from Ryan Adams, Dave Hause, Jens Lekman, and of course, Strand Of Oaks, hit the stands at at Main Street Music in Manayunk (which just celebrated its 25 year anniversary back in October). Tim Showalter’s brainchild has been blooming for years now, and even more recently with the release of his new record, Hard Love. It comes as a followup to HEAL, Strand Of Oaks’ last record released in 2014.
To celebrate the occasion, Showalter, who lives not too far from Manayunk in the Mt. Airy section of Philly, announced that he would be holding his record release listening party at Main Street Music. He said the store’s support for him has been huge and he’s developed a friendship with the store’s faithful staff, owner Pat Feeney and Jaime Blood. Listening parties like this are pretty common at Main Street Music; they’ve also held them and live performances for acts such as Wilco, Dawes, and many more. Less common is the artist being on hand personally.
Musically, Hard Love is louder and more stretched out. Showalter channels former tourmates My Morning Jacket by invoking soaring reverb, slicing guitars, and pounding drums. Its not unlike HEAL, but where the last record merged 80’s power pop and folk with dreamy underground synths, Hard Love feels more like a “band” record than a “solo” record. On “Everything,” the layered Beatles-like harmonies merged with heavy, almost metal guitars. Album centerpiece, “On The Hill,” which chronicles a psychedelic experience that Showalter had after playing a music festival, rolls out of control and brings the listener into the haze. The hooks are less apparent, but they become more rewarding when you can pick them out from behind the noise.
The event started at 7, with patrons slowly shuffling in, poking around at various records and helping themselves to beer provided by Lagunitas Brewing Company. Showalter and his wife, Sue, stumbled into Main St a little after 7, with trays of pizza from their favorite pizza joint, Pizzeria Nonna in Germantown. Showalter, a Philly transplant from Wilkes-Barre via Indiana, obviously shows favoritism towards NEPA Old Forge-style pizza. Once they arrived, the party began to start as the albums flew off the shelves.
As Jaime’s husband, Mark, spun The Lemonheads and Bowie in between playing Hard Love tracks such as the rollicking “Radio Kids,” Tim and Sue mingled around the room, along with Oaks drummer Mike Sneeringer, as it slowly began to get packed. Everyone wanted the chance to congratulate Tim on his accomplishments, so a warm air of laughter and joy flowed through the store. Narratives didn’t matter; people just wanted to listen to good music and disconnect themselves from the outside world for a little while. Tim was all smiles while autographing copies of his new record, presented on “stoner green” vinyl.
On the album’s most rocking song, “Rest Of It,” Showalter sings, “Baby, don’t run away, you can get the rest of it,” before yelping over raging guitars. Hard Love is about throwing your all into the fray. Love may sometimes be a battlefield, but it’s not earned easy. Its also about sticking through the tough times, like on the beautiful closing track “Taking Acid and Talking to My Brother,” which drifts off into the hopeful light of love and perseverance.
Before the night came to an end, Tim and Sue announced the winner of their Hard Love raffle, which included a cassette copy of the album and a personalized cassette player that they designed themselves. As people started to leave, Showalter was still mingling and nerding out over his favorite records with patrons. He mentioned a deep love of The Exploding Hearts, the early 2000’s punk band who tragically died in a car crash after only releasing one album.
Where HEAL ruminated on escaping from a troubled past, Hard Love continues the ongoing process of growing up and confronting your mistakes — both with a backdrop of psychedelics and in a backdrop of stone sobriety. It’s a sequel to HEAL, but its also a polar opposite, a reflection. Extroversion verses introversion. Hard Love is a record about its title, about noticing when you have something special and holding on to it dearly. You can’t put the music of Strand Of Oaks into a box unless its a record store-sized box that’s filled with friends and family. Hard Love: we don’t find it enough.
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