When I was eighteen a friend and I, fed up with the trivialities of our everyday existences, decided to embark on a trip that would take us from the winter deadened heartland of the Midwest to the golden gated paradise of the west. By train. It was the most obvious choice of transportation for two kids looking to loaf around and skirt responsibility for as long as possible. Plus, the 54 hours on the California Zephyr would be a lot easier on our canvas and velcro wallets as it included 4 1/2 days of virtually free lodging. Now, I don’t want to go into all of the details of this trip (sorry B), all I really want to do is write about the second release of the 2009 that has me going absolutely crazy.
So, why the back-story? Well, while I can still picture and taste the eternal smoke cloud that insulated the smoking car, remember the late night conversations with old drunks and authors, and feel the ache in my back from 4 nights of crouching to sleep in the smallest spaces imaginable, it is the music that acted as soundtrack on this journey that I remember most vividly.
Stashed away in my pack, obvious for this time of my life, were stacks of Grateful Dead & Phish bootlegs and also two Neil Young tapes. While the live shows failed to make it from their cases to my Walkman, Harvest and After the Goldrush were nearly worn out by the end of this trip. “Out on the Weekend,” and “After the Goldrush” eased my mind and eased my eyes to a close as we rolled through city after city, while the moon failed to illuminate the barren landscapes of Iowa and Nebraska.
Looking back, Neil’s vocals, minced with his amazing words acted a perfect musical companion. If someone were to say to me “I’m taking a train across the country next week, do you have any suggestions for music I should bring for the long nights?”
My answer would certainly include those two gems from NY’s catalogue, Bon Iver’s For Emma… and an album that is being compared to and touted as this years For Emma, Strand of Oaks-Leave Ruin.
While I don’t typically like when a new album is compared to one that is still wet from the presses, I find it quite fitting they’re getting paired together. One reason for this is that they both emote a vibe of desolation and loss. My own observation reveals that they both symbolize what I can only describe as “blue-collared” as I find both to be filled with dirt, dust, and grease that makes its way from Eau Claire, WI and Wilkes-Barre, PA through your speakers and into your ears. This is not to say that both albums are the same, but simply that they share the same pulp and plasma that make them both equally important listens.
The instrumentation (acoustic guitar, banjo, Rhodes, drums, among others) help make Leave Ruin grittily full of wonderfulness but the lyrics, pregnant with imagery and a catalyst for remembrances, are the true champion here. To get an overall feel for the record without listening to it, think Sun Kil Moon’s Ghosts of the Great Highway, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks (yeah I said it) or any other emotional juggernaut that makes you feel every fucking word. One minute your cringing in pain, smiling with joy, or just awake to what is being meditated in your ears. No matter how the wind may blow that day, I guarantee that you will have some kind of emotional reaction to this record.
My wife says its HEAVY and heavy is a great way to describe it. For anyone that has seen In the Bedroom (2001), in places Leave Ruin is just as crushingly heavy as that. Actually the record comes off more as the confessions of Timothy Showalter, the man behind Strand of Oaks, than anything else. His songs are personal and telling. He’s not afraid to admit that he’s scared, wrong, or that things in his life cause him pain. But most importantly, he sings about uncertainty. And he does it in a way that is so damn comforting. “Thought I was too old to have dreams like this…” are the first words we hear. What a beautiful way to begin. Without going into any detail, this is a phrase that I have uttered to others and myself too many times to remember. Just hearing these words make me feel so unbelievably good about where I stand. We, the late twenty-something dreamers that have yet to conquer our fears and realize our hopes aren’t alone. Whether it’s for a walk in the park, a dinner party, or a trip across the country, we’ve got a new c0mpanion. Give it a listen.
And if you do and like what you hear come check them out in Madison on Sunday April 12th at Café Monmarte, presented by Muzzleofbees. Click their link on the side for more information about the gig.