Essential New Music: Strand Of Oaks’ “Hard Love”

Tim Showalter wants you to know how much he loves rock ’n’ roll. He’s as enraptured by the life-affirming powers of a loud rock song as he’s aware of the damaging potential of a rock ’n’ roll lifestyle. HEAL, his breakthrough 2014 album as Strand Of Oaks, contained a paean to the late Jason Molina, the leader of Songs:Ohia, that was both adulatory and cautionary; the new Hard Love opens by juxtaposing a break-up song (the title track) with a celebration of how the joy of hearing a great song on the radio can change a life (“Radio Kids”). Gone are his folk/rock days; Hard Love rocks hard, and when it doesn’t, it sounds aptly hung over or strung out. Philly’s Showalter doesn’t mind anchoring his songs in the styles of his heroes: The allusions reinforce his love: Dinosaur Jr and Smashing Pumpkins, Bruce Springsteen and Ryan Adams, Molina and Neil Young & Crazy Horse. The eight-minute stoner rock of “Taking Acid And Talking To My Brother” is a bit of a trudge, but Hard Love is easy to adore.

—Steve Klinge