NEPA Scene Staff

Former Wilkes-Barre musician Strand of Oaks returns to F.M. Kirby Center on Nov. 21

Former Wilkes-Barre musician Strand of Oaks returns to F.M. Kirby Center on Nov. 21
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From a press release:

Following the announcement of a new album and tour earlier this month, it was announced today that Strand of Oaks will be back at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre on Sunday, Nov. 21 as part of the venue’s “Chandelier Concert Series.”

Brooklyn indie rock band The Still Tide will open the intimate show. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., and the concert starts at 8:30 p.m.

Strand of Oaks is a folk rock project by singer, songwriter, and former Wilkes-Barre resident Timothy Showalter, using the name for his solo work as well as full band music. His debut album as Strand of Oaks, “Leave Ruin,” came out in 2009 on La Société Expéditionnaire, an independent record label founded in Pennsylvania by Lou Rogai of Lewis & Clarke. An Indiana native, Showalter is still remembered locally for his time spent living in Luzerne County and playing shows at venues such as Cafe Metropolis before moving to Philadelphia. In fact, he appears in a 2011 documentary about the club’s closing.

Stand of Oaks’ latest full-length album, “Eraserland,” was released via Dead Oceans in 2019, and the Eraserland Tour kicked off soon after at the Kirby Center, bringing his journey full circle.

Tickets for his 2021 return, which are $18 in advance and $22 the day of the show, plus applicable fees, go on sale this Thursday, July 22 at noon and will be available at the Sundance Vacations Box Office at the F.M. Kirby Center (71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre), online at kirbycenter.org and ticketmaster.com, and by phone at 570-826-1100. A Kirby Member pre-sale begins Wednesday, July 21 at 10 a.m.

Since his debut over a decade ago, Tim Showalter has toured relentlessly with sold-out shows across the country, including concerts with Jason Isbell and Iron & Wine and appearances on “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” NPR Music’s “Tiny Desk Concerts,” and many more.

To say “In Heaven.” is about conquering grief would be oversimplifying everything he has achieved on the upcoming eighth studio album from Strand of Oaks. A stunning, hopeful reflection on love, loss, and enlightenment, it is a triumph in music making and a preeminent addition to the Strand of Oaks discography.

In late 2018, Showalter’s wife, Sue, lost her mother in a car accident. Soon after, Stan, the cat they both adored, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Showalter quit drinking so he could take better care of his wife and help rebuild the life they shared and, within months, they decided to pack up and move across the country from Philadelphia to Austin, Texas. It was an irrational decision made at the height of a terrible time, but it’s one that shaped so much of what “In Heaven” is about.

The album was recorded in October of 2020 with Kevin Ratterman at Invisible Creature in Los Angeles. Carl Broemel (My Morning Jacket) is featured on guitar throughout the record, while (The Smashing Pumpkins) contributed vocals and guitar on the second track, “Easter.” Bo Koster (My Morning Jacket, Roger Waters) provided keyboards, Cedric LeMoyne (Alanis Morissette, Remy Zero) is on bass, Scott Moore on violin, and Ratterman monstrous drums. Showalter also played a lot of synth on this record, which he hasn’t done since his 2014 album “Heal.” With clean sounds, Jeff Lynne-esque acoustics, and sophisticated songwriting, he approached “In Heaven” in a more poised and pop-leaning way than his past releases.

“I wanted to strive for something greater than what I thought I was capable of.”

The result is something extraordinary, as he has crafted a poignant narrative that transcends his personal experiences and achieves a universality rooted not only in loss but joy, celebration, and newfound strength. The gorgeous opener “Galacticana,” which recently premiered on July 9, finds him telling us, “I don’t want to drag you down,” a reassurance that his intentions lie in uplifting. But there’s a duality present throughout “In Heaven” that is palpable, as felt on “Easter,” an exuberant pop anthem featuring jaunty guitar and ethereal vocals courtesy of Iha, that both celebrates Showalter’s new life and references his efforts to “stop the boat from sinking.” It’s a powerful sentiment echoed in slow burner “Hurry,” which showcases some exceptional shredding by Broemel, and beyond as Showalter explores mortality and a heightened sense of his own existence, intensified by a world where he no longer uses alcohol to cope.

Pairing smart, imaginative lyrics and striking arrangements, tracks like “Carbon” and its magnificent violin stand out, as does “Sister Saturn” with its funky, sinuous groove, and the sublime “Horses at Night,” which features one of Showalter’s most exquisite melodies to date. There’s also a discernible current running through “In Heaven” of homage to some notable losses in music – John Prine, Jeff Buckley, and Jimi Hendrix all play a part – for this album is about moving beyond sadness or anger to a state of gratitude that we ever had these people to begin with. And while every song provides some clue to his personal heaven, the jubilant “Jimi and Stan” says it all, wherein Hendrix and his beloved cat Stan are hanging out, going to shows, and looking at stars together.

And as the musical odyssey ends in the warm embrace of “Under Heaven,” the weight of everything Showalter has manifested – the beauty, and the sadness, and the immensity of it all – hits with tremendous impact. But any sense of hopelessness or melancholy yields to a different feeling entirely, just as he intended. Perhaps listeners feel stronger, more prepared for something. Or maybe it’s just a reminder – call your parents, text your friends, hug your pets. Listen to your favorite records. And think about what it means to be alive.

“‘In Heaven’ was created with so much love, and my greatest hope is that it connects with people and provides a momentary space for reflection, joy, catharsis, and whatever else someone might be looking for in their life,” Showalter said.

“Music is magic, and I feel like the luckiest person in the world that I’m allowed to share it.”

See NEPA Scene’s photos of Strand of Oaks performing at the 2017 XPoNential Music Festival in New Jersey here.