Merriam-Webster defines “bombast” as something that “is meant to sound important or impressive but is not sincere or meaningful.” Of course, critics walk a fine line when attempting to judge sincerity, but the dictionary definition is referring to bombastic speech. Over-inflated sounds are a bit easier to discern and, for this listener, easier to dislike. Think U2 at its most bloated and self-important. Or the Arcade Fire at its most U2.
Goshen, Indiana-based singer and songwriter Tim Showalter is winning plenty of fans for his Americana underground update of John Mellencamp’s Midwestern earnestness on HEAL, his second album as Strand of Oaks. And it can indeed be affective hearing the artist trace his path to music-making from discovering dad’s dusty reel-to-reel, to buying used Casio keyboards, to “singing [Smashing] Pumpkins in the mirror” in “Goshen ’97,” or paying tribute to another musical hero, the late Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., in the seven-minute “JM.”