Strand Of Oaks
It's moot whether the world needs another hirsute American songwriter, yet to his credit Tim Showalter - aka Strand Of Oaks - has the decency to acknowledge those who have gone before him, firstly by inviting a passing J Mascis to add lead guitar to the FM radio assault of the opening Goshen '97, then five cuts later by dedicating a lugubrious, seven-minutes-plus country-rock workout to the late Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company.
That those songs are the dual highlights of Showalter's fourth long-player is, however, emblematic of a lack of ambition that drags like unwanted ballast from start to finish. In the likes of Plymouth and Shut In, for example, there are echoes of such artless rockers as Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and, yes, Bono at his messianic worst, forcing you to wonder whose creative advice Showalter is heeding.
Sporadic attempts are made to conceal the derivativeness of 90% of Heal in the shape of fat keyboards, synth washes and drum machines, yet the overriding impression is of gilding the lily, those sounds being better saved for someone who has found their voice, rather than that of more illustrious predecessors.
Still, J Mascis. Respect for that.