If you're going to be downbeat, glum, or morose, it's best to do it the way Timothy Showalter does it. Which is, with an energy and purpose that doesn't contradict the melancholy, but rather frames it as various stories — studies in seriousness. He records under the name Strand of Oaks, he writes and performs nearly all of the music on this new album himself. It's titled Heal as in "healing a wound," something Strand of Oaks frequently seems in need of.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the new album "Heal" from musician Timothy Showalter, who has been recording under the name Strand of Oaks since 2006. In the studio, he plays nearly all the instruments himself and has cited performers ranging from Jeff Buckley to Richard Pryor as influences.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHUT IN")
STRAND OF OAKS: (Singing) I was born in the middle, maybe too late. Everything good had been made. So I just get loaded and never leave my house. It's taking way too long to figure this out. Know my name, know I mean it.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: If you're going to be downbeat, glum or morose, it's best to do it the way Timothy Showalter does it, which is with an energy and purpose that doesn't contradict the melancholy, but rather frames it as various stories - studies in seriousness. He records under the name Strand of Oaks. He writes and performs nearly all of the music on this new album himself. And it's titled "Heal" as in healing a wound. Something Strand of Oaks frequently seems in need of.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAIT FOR LOVE")
OF OAKS: (Singing) And all the warning lights, you hold them up for me. And all the little things I said goes away. Wait for me, dear. Wait for me. Wait for me, dear. Wait for me.
TUCKER: I wait for love, Showalter sings on that song, and he does a lot of that sort of waiting over the course of this album. It's a collection of songs about missed connections, missed opportunities, friends and lovers who are missed by a narrator who's more than willing to take the blame for all of it - which could be unbearable spread over 10 songs, but isn't at all because the music here is frequently big, billowy stuff with melodies that ripple with muscle, powering its way past self-pity and regret. The singer invites you to learn some of the sources of this work in the superb autobiographical song "Goshen '97."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOSHEN '97")
OF OAKS: (Singing) I was rotting in the basement, buying Casios with my friend. Then I found my dad's old tape machine. That's where the magic began. I was lonely. I was having fun. I was lonely, but I was having fun. I don't want to start all over again. I don't want to start all over again.
TUCKER: Goshen is Goshen, Indiana, where, if you take him at his word, the young Timothy Showalter lived in his family basement during the 1990s. He was listening to bands like Smashing Pumpkins and starting to piece together sounds and words that would describe his own mood, which can be summed up by that chorus (reading), I was lonely, I was having fun. Starting in 2006, he began putting out recordings as Strand Of Oaks, sounding more quiet, more like a folk singer than not. As the years have gone by, Strand of Oaks' music has become bigger and brawnier, but there are also moments when the volume drops and the melody becomes beautiful in its yearning.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLYMOUTH")
OF OAKS: (Singing) Sometimes I move like shadows. Sometimes I move like wind. But most days I start where I begin. Naked in the Great Lakes, underneath the shine of Mars, I begged my friend to just let me drift off. Shower your nose with kisses, shower the world with tears. Take advantage of those who got you here. Let me roll.
TUCKER: Over and over, the songs here circle back to the theme of healing - of having your heart broken or your dreams dashed, or having someone who meant a lot to you vanish from your life. But you go on, you do what you have to do to get past as much of the pain as possible. That could be just another singer-songwriter trying to put out a positive message. But with Strand Of Oaks, it becomes a much more nuanced drama. With each song here, you want to hear how it all began and hear how it all ends.
GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed the new Strand Of Oaks album "Heal." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.