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One of the curious things about recorded music is that it's an eternal document of a certain moment in time, an inerasable signature of emotions and memories that the artist - however many years on from that point where 'record' was pressed on the tape machine (yes, yes, how very retro of me) - will never escape, no matter how hard they try.

I've often wondered if that contributed to the slow decline and death of Jason Molina; while the word "try" recurred as a hopeful leitmotif through his songs, especially from Magnolia Electric Co.onwards, it was an empty catharsis as Molina couldn't outrun the wolves, shadows and snakes that crowded his work as Songs:Ohia. The Big Beast, the inescapable, was his body of recorded song.

Yet here on HEAL, the third full-length from Strand of Oaks, Molina's songs act as a guide for Timothy Showalter to overcome his own personal demons. Indeed, while the artist might not be able to outrun what's been committed to tape, it allows us to process and evaluate our own lives, even to inspire us to greater things. HEAL is Showalter's gift to us, a record that sings of the healing power of music and love and finds Strand of Oaks peeking out from the shadows of Pope Kildragon's gothic gloom, plugging in and letting go.

And that's exactly where 'Goshen 97' starts; Showalter is a teenager "rotting in his basement" and "singing Pumpkins in the mirror" and we're suddenly a long way from the fantastical stories that accompanied the prog-folk of the preceding records. This is Strand of Oaks reborn as a rock and roll band, helped along by an incredible J Mascis solo that wails all across the 4/4 beat as Showalter pleads "I don't wanna start all over again" - the sound of a man living his dream, following in the footsteps of his idol Molina by signing to Secretly Canadian. So as we lurch from that rock and roll opening, we then delve into gothic synth rock (Showalter is someone who's always been fond of messing with synthesisers) with 'HEAL', an honest assessment of the impact of drink and drugs on relationships. It's reminiscent of 'Personal Jesus'-era Depeche Mode and it's as painfully bleak as David Gahan was during that time. The synths are stretched out and all over 'Same Emotions' which screams '80s white boy guitar funk from start to end but is about a million times better than that sounds...if My Morning Jacket's Evil Urges was a success, it would have sounded like this.

HEAL is at its best when it embraces the blue collar rock and roll that Jason Molina took solace in, so the passionate, damaged delivery that Showalter adopts on 'Shut In' is one of the finest moments on the record. The vocal edges towards Springsteen, while the band plays some stirring country rock and Showalter sings "I was born in the middle / maybe too late /everything good had been made." Full of doubt, he battles on with "know my name / Know I mean it / it's not as bad as it seems / and we try / in our own way / to get better ...even if we're alone" and you can't help draw comparisons with Molina's use of the word "try". The centrepiece of HEAL is of course the Molina tribute of 'JM'; it draws on Indiana (the neighbouring state of Molina's Ohio), namechecks 'Long Desert Train' proclaims that Showalter had Molina's "sweet tunes to play" to get him through the hard times. The music is pure Neil Young and Crazy Horse: slow verses and explosive soloing in lieu of a chorus. Not a moment is wasted.

You'd forgive Showalter for letting the album tail off after that but he gives us a run of songs that prove he's got some song writing chops: 'Plymouth' occupies similar territory to the recent War On Drugs record as it floats by on gentle piano and motorik beat, 'Mirage Year' is a fragile, quivering wreck of a song where Showalter appropriates 'Only Love Will Break Your Heart' by singing "oooh, love can bring you down" and breaks our collective hearts, while 'For Me' is a swampy, stomp-rock treat to show it's not all introspection round these parts. The final track asks us to 'Wait For Love': a plea from Showalter to us to persevere, it's a fitting note to end a record that's all about keeping going.

It's hard to escape the positivity on HEAL and that's some achievement from Showalter, who's scraped around in the dirt and the shit to give us something that really matters. The title couldn't be more appropriate - it's an album about the healing power of music, a testament from someone who made it through, a shout to keep going.

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