BOOT & SADDLE

1131 S. Broad Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19147

Strand Of Oaks

WXPN 88.5 Welcomes ...

Strand Of Oaks

Christopher Denny

Sat, September 20, 2014

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 8:30 pm

The Boot & Saddle

Philadelphia, PA

$12.00

Sold Out

This event is 21 and over

Strand Of Oaks
Strand Of Oaks
Hard Love, Tim Showalter's latest release as Strand of Oaks, is a record that explores the balancing act between overindulgence and accountability. Recounting Showalter's decadent tour experiences, his struggling marriage, and the near death of his younger brother, Hard Love emanates an unabashed, raw, and manic energy that embodies both the songs and the songwriter behind them. "For me, there are always two forces at work: the side that's constantly on the hunt for the perfect song, and the side that's naked in the desert screaming at the moon. It's about finding a place where neither side is compromised, only elevated."
During some much-needed downtime following the release of his previous album, Heal, Showalter began writing Hard Love and found himself in a now familiar pattern of tour exhaustion, chemically-induced flashbacks, and ongoing domestic turmoil. Drawing from his love of Creation Records, Trojan dub compilations, and Jane's Addiction, and informed by a particularly wild time at Australia's Boogie Festival, he sought to create a record that would merge all of these influences while evoking something new and visceral. Showalter's first attempt at recording the album led to an unsatisfying result-a fully recorded version of Hard Love that didn't fully achieve the ambitious sounds he heard in his head. He realized that his vision for the album demanded collaboration, and enlisted producer Nicolas Vernhes, who helped push him into making the most fearless album of his career.
Throughout the recording process, both Showalter and Vernhes maintained an environment that paired musical experimentation with a mindset that defied Showalter's previous studio endeavors: the atmosphere had to be loose, a celebration of the creative process and a reinforcement of the record's core themes. "In a time of calculation and overthinking, I wanted to bring back the raw, impulsive nature that is the DNA of so many records I love." And in keeping with that loose, hedonistic vibe that encompasses so much of Hard Love, Showalter looked to his best friend, Jason Anderson, whose musical prowess and expert shredding augmented the unrelenting energy that would become the record's backbone.
This uninhibited and collaborative studio experience led to the most dynamic album in Strand of Oaks discography, moving beyond Showalter's original concept for a singularly feel-good record to something more complex and real. For as much as Showalter wants this record to seem like a party, it's more than that. It feels like living. "You went away...you went searching...came back tired of looking" is how Showalter begins the title track, a sentiment that epitomizes Showalter's own mentality in beginning Hard Love. And as the record progresses, so do the themes of dissatisfaction and frustration with love, and family, and success, and aging, both in personal experience and songwriting.
"Radio Kids," Showalter's infectious, synth-driven ode to youth and a time when music represented something pure and uncomplicated, perfectly encapsulates his desire for escapism from both his adult responsibilities and a world he no longer recognizes. But if there's a sun in the Hard Love solar system, it's "On the Hill," a psychedelic, celebratory homage to three days in the excesses of that mind-altering Boogie Festival. "On the Hill" captures the true zeitgeist of how Showalter wants this record to feel. "It's like I had to fly across the world to find out who I was...it was all about getting loose, and connecting with people on a primordial level... letting go of all the bad things, losing your inhibitions, and figuring out what it means to be alive." The accumulating intensity that Showalter crafts throughout this flagship track seems to effortlessly achieve an almost hallucinogenic ambiance, with images of lighters being lifted, concert-goers embracing, and the magnitude of the moment eliciting nothing less than mass euphoria.
And then, there's "Cry."
"Eventually there's this crushing reality of what it means to hurt someone, what you did to hurt someone...you're not the victim anymore, it's not romantic, it's not a narrative...you just realize you're the cause of problems." This noticeable shift in the tone of Hard Love-a heartbreaking, piano-laden ballad with the chorus "Hey...you're making me cry"-is a sobering reality check in Showalter's universe. And as Showalter struggles to reconcile his youthful desires with the realities of adulthood, we're eventually led into the final death rattle of his pervasive partying, "Rest of It." With its loud, raucous arrangement of sing-along vocals and searing guitars solos, "Rest of It" emerges as Hard Love's flawless manifestation of an exceedingly fun, belligerently drunk night where you try to forego life's responsibilities and have one more good time.
Much of Hard Love was either written or conceptualized during Showalter's post-tour break, as he reveled in the memory of what he considered to be life-changing experiences. But it was during this period that he received devastating news: his younger brother, Jon, had suffered massive cardiac failure. "He was 27 years old at the time...it happened out of nowhere. I flew out to Indiana and stayed in the hospital for almost two weeks. They said he had a 10% chance of surviving and they had to induce a coma to prevent brain damage. Sometimes he would start to wake up and look me in the eyes...it was the worst thing that ever happened to me. But he got better. That's all that matters." In so many ways, it only seems fitting that Showalter's psychedelic journey, his awakening to drug-fueled excess, the loss of inhibitions, the inevitable reality check, and his subsequent last hurrah be capped with his darkest, most life-affirming experience yet. The title of the record's final track, "Taking Acid and Talking With my Brother," represents Showalter's last-ditch attempt at reconciling his personal life and his impulsions, crafting a clear connection between what were previously considered trippy experiences and the now extraordinary surrealism of witnessing his younger brother's medical emergency.
And as Hard Love comes to its conclusion, it becomes that much more obvious that the singer/songwriter has grown to something larger and more momentous, crafting a passionate, brazen, and fully realized rock and roll record that captures the escapism of sex and drugs while offering an equally sincere perspective on the responsibilities, complications, and traumas that punctuate our lives and force us to evolve. "Some records are built like monuments, set in stone...I want this record to be burned in effigy, I want it to be burned in celebration of the limited time we have on this Earth."
Christopher Denny
Christopher Denny
Christopher Denny has a voice that will stop you in your tracks; a fervent Orbison meets Dylan tenor that fills his songs with a tremendous emotional pressure. It's the voice of a Southern choirboy who attended the church of alcohol, drugs and self-destruction in a failed attempt to deal with his inner pain and conflicts. He has a gift for infusing simple words with raw sentiment and marrying them to haunting melodies that immediately capture your attention. "The album was inspired by my struggles," Denny says. "The moments in my life that caused me the most hurt and brought me the most beauty. The songs deal with the self-loathing, fear and thoughts of inadequacy we all struggle with, something I call soft suicide."

The music on "If The Roses Don't Kill Us," his Partisan Records debut, is just as gripping as Denny's lyrics; a blend of pre-country Southern music, folk, rock, gospel and singer/songwriter impulses, a style Denny calls Arkansas Soul. The album's crisp, clean arrangements combine Denny's acoustic finger picking with subtle touches of electric guitar, pedal steel and a solid rhythm section. It took one month to record the final version of the album, made with a mix of musicians from Denny's band and A-List studio players. It is the end result of a process that saw some of the songs being recorded three different times over the course five or six years.

When Denny made his debut, "Age Old Hunger," he was fighting his dependence on alcohol and prescription drugs. "I started drinking young, but not as young as some," Denny says. "It's a southern tradition," he adds with a touch of bitter humor. "When I made that album, I didn't want to do overdubs. I wanted the band to play every part exactly the way I'd written it. The songs were angry, without understanding or maturity. When it was done, I got strung out. I couldn't even look at my guitar for a long time, but now I'm clean and grateful for the opportunities Partisan has given me."

"I saw Chris perform in the back of a club in New York in 2006," says Tim Putnam, Partisan Records' co-founder. "He had the kind of timeless, ethereal voice you seldom hear. There's a sad, beautiful rhythm and poetry in his music that's hard to wrap my head around. When I started the label, I searched him out and we made an album in upstate NY with versions of some of the songs on "Roses." Chris was a mess. Although the album had some incredible moments, it was put aside. Chris went on a massive personal decline and we lost contact. In 2010, when he was putting his life back together, he got in touch. He was in recovery and we made "If The Roses Don't Kill Us." In the process, Chris and his music experienced a rebirth."

Denny was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. As long as he can remember, he wanted to be a singer. "There's a home video of me playing Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Gimme Three Steps' when I was four years old," Denny recalls. "I was dressed up in a cowboy hat and boots with my shirt tucked in, walking around like a grown man with a guitar around my neck. I loved country music and I knew there was a special place out there for me.

"My grandfather got me my first real guitar, showed me a few chords and told me to develop my own voice. He told me nobody could stop me if I really wanted success. My first time on stage was in front of 1,900 people at a ninth grade school assembly." The crowd reaction was favorable; Denny's path was set.

At home, things weren't going as well. "There was a lot of poverty, insanity and self-destruction. I was never taught how to take care of myself. I barely lived through my childhood." At 12, Denny's aunt and uncle adopted him. They encouraged his musical talent and songwriting. "I had a neighbor who taught me how to make bar chords. That's all I needed to started writing songs."

After high school, Denny met a band called Parachute Woman. They morphed into Chris Denny and The Old Soles, the group that backed Denny on "Age Old Hunger." After the album was released, Denny left town. "I was using and the band got serious too fast; it was too much to handle. I got on a train and went to stay with my sister in California."

Denny cleaned up, returned to Little Rock and put together The Natives, a group composed of high school friends. "We did a tour, but I was controlling things with drugs and alcohol. When that didn't work, I fell apart again."

In 2008, Denny moved to Little Rock to take care of his father who was dying of Hepatitis C and cirrhosis. By 2011, Denny adds, "My wife and I were using, living harder than he did at our age. I knew I had to do something." Meanwhile, Marlboro Cigarettes licensed "Roller Coaster" and "God's Height," songs Denny cut with The Natives, for their website. "They sent me a check for 20,000 dollars. I told my wife we could use the money to get clean or die. We got clean."

As he was putting his life back together, Denny reconnected with Tim Putnam of Partisan Records and began work on "If The Roses Don't Kill Us." When the album was finished, Putman said he wouldn't release it until Denny had been clean for six months. With that milestone passed, Denny's performing again, taking it one day at a time. "At this point in my life I've realized it's more productive to approach my problems by writing songs about them."

"If The Roses Don't Kill Us" was made with Grammy-winning producer Dave Sanger (Asleep at the Wheel) and his partners PJ Herrington and Jay Reynolds. They created a relaxed atmosphere in the studio that gave Denny's vocals a sharp, visceral presence. The album opener, "Happy Sad" sets the stage for all that follows. When Denny strums a minor chord and sings the word "sad," you're pulled into his world of intense melancholy.

The descending melody line and bluesy guitar lines of "God's Height" gives the tune a sense of anguished longing, mitigated by Denny's playful vocal. "I was laughing about the thoughts you get at the end of a relationship when you think you're not good enough, but you know you're going to survive." The churchy B3 organ on "Our Kind of Love" suggests Memphis in the early 60s, a feeling echoed in Denny's crooning. "No matter how bad it seems, we only have this moment. When I wrote, 'It's our love, darlin', and we beat ourselves black and blue,' I was realizing how much I love my dark feelings."

Denny's jubilant vocal dominates "Watch Me Shine" with chiming acoustic guitar and sustained bell-like synthesizer notes adding to the track's righteous mood. "If the Roses Don't Kill Us" is pure country funk with a New Orleans brass band supporting Denny's lively vocal. "Sometimes you have to go crazy to figure out what's important to you," Denny explains. "This is about leaving a relationship when you know the situation isn't really resolved."

That ambivalence is the thread that holds the songs on "If The Roses Don't Kill Us" together. Denny's barely restrained vocals have the ability to describe contradictory feelings with an intensity that gives every word he sings the ring of painful truth. His shimmering, one-of-a-kind voice reaches you on a deep emotional level, touching your heart and soul to deliver his hard won insights with an honesty that makes his singing and songwriting something unique and rare.
Venue Information:
The Boot & Saddle
1131 S. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19147
http://www.bootandsaddlephilly.com