by Adam McGrath
The beauty of music is that songs born out of pain can bring joy into the world. Even though both Christopher Denny and Timothy Showalter of Strand of Oaks write songs that come from very personal, sometimes dark places, their performances transform difficult life experiences into art.
Christopher Denny was very candid about his struggles with substance abuse even while talking to the crowd, and his music is filled with references to past hurts and mistakes. Denny’s singular voice lends so much emotion to already weighty subjects, so while watching him play songs like “Happy Sad” and “God’s Height” off the excellent album If the Roses Don’t Kill Us (Partisan) is a lot of fun, the performance demands an emotional response as well.
Strand of Oaks certainly has no problem playing with feeling, and the atmosphere Friday night was charged with good will as Boot & Saddle hosted the first of two sold-out nights with the hardworking band. After a month-long cross-country tour, Showalter and company came home to Philly for a brief rest before heading off to Europe next week.
Family love was in the air, as relatives of bassist Deven Craige rolled into South Philly on a party bus. It made for powerful, flawless performances of songs like “Shut In”, “Goshen ‘97” and “Heal”. Things quieted when Craige and drummer Mike Sneeringer stepped off-stage for a bit, allowing Showalter and keyboard player Eliza Jones to create soft, lovely versions of older songs “Diamond Drill” and “Two Kids”.
Both acts Friday night brought a lot of personal emotion to their performances, and it made for a moving, memorable show. The Philly audience was happy to give it right back to them, as Denny’s talent was welcomed right alongside the local favorites. Lots of people had a really good weekend because of these two shows, and I’m lucky to be one of them.