Strand Of Oaks (aka Timothy Showalter) faces the same dilemma that The Acorn faced in following up their debut Glory Hope Mountain. Both had released deeply personal albums where the back story carried as much weight as the actual songs. But much like The Acorn’s follow up No Ghost, Strand Of Oaks’ Pope Kildragon is a worthy successor and, at points, is considerably better than Leave Ruin.
The standout track on Pope Killdragon is “Daniel’s Blues,” a tune Tim played for us during our HearYa Live Session. It’s a song told from the perspective of Dan Aykroyd after John Belushi’s death. I know. It’s a slightly bizarre concept, but completely heartbreaking. The first time Timothy sings the lines “John would always laugh, but he’s not laughing now,” I was hit between his eyes. There is guilt, mourning, and resolution in our pseudo-Aykroyd character in the lines “We have to move on without our Brother John/ and everybody’s got to sing new songs/ So Elwood, it’s time to move on.” As with most of Tim’s songs, the instrumental accompaniment is sparse and creates a perfect backdrop.
There are also some flat out jams on this album that would make Neil Young proud. The end of “Sterling,” which centers around a meeting with JFK, is so unexpected that it literally had me doing 100 MPH in my ’01 Explorer. I was rocking out so damn hard that I must have pinned the ol’ girl. Later, after the sparse acoustic number “Alex Kona,” there is a metal instrumental called “Giant’s Despair” that belongs on a Dio album.
In an email to Tim, I apologized for neglecting Pope Killdragon for so long. His albums aren’t meant to be listened to for the first time while doing anything else. You have to give them your complete concentration or you’ll miss the details and subtlety that make his music so special. Lately, life hasn’t been giving me much time without distractions, but a long night drive back from Peoria was the perfect time for Pope Killdragon. It knocked me on my ass. It is staggeringly beautiful, oddly weird in parts, and the work of one supremely talented musician. And one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.