The smoldering core of Strand Of Oaks’ HEAL is “JM,” Timothy Showalter’s note-perfect tribute to the late Jason Molina, who passed away last year from organ failure due to alcohol consumption. Whereas “Goshen ’97” was a charging alt-rocker and “Shut-In” captured the spirit of Ryan Adams at his most bleary-eyed, this one expertly captures the hushed fragility and crushing glacial roots-rock of Molina’s best work with Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company. In our recent interview with Showalter, he gave some background on the song:
STEREOGUM: I also was really struck by the song that you wrote for Jason Molina, “JM.” Was he a personal friend of yours?
SHOWALTER: I only met him once. I don’t know of any casual fans of Songs: Ohia. The fans that I know of Jason’s are all like me: They seem like a friend of Jason’s. It’s that weird too-deep-of-a-feeling that probably made him feel uncomfortable as a perfomer. But that shit mattered. It wasn’t just a passing fad. Those songs were like a culture that you lived in. When I wrote the songs, I had to write “JM” because I had to tell whoever wanted to listen that, “Look, I rip this guy off.” This guy is — I just want to be his doppleganger when it comes to music. He is the realest, most badass musician of my generation. We lost him way too young, and I need to show him, wherever he is, my appreciation. It was all I could do. But that to me is the song on the record that if the label or somebody was like, “Maybe we shouldn’t include ’JM,’” I’d be like, “Maybe we shouldn’t put out a record,” because this song will have to be on this record. It’s the core of it, I feel like, in a weird way.
STEREOGUM: That makes sense, especially if the one thread is music.
SHOWALTER: Exactly, it just feels like a mantra. Something else bad happened in my life, but thank God I can put on Didn’t It Rain or Ghost Tropic or Magnolia. Everything in that song is is so autobiographical. It’s not even poetic, it’s just me verbatim retelling things from all of those situations I talked about. I was actively listening to a record probably when I was doing that exact thing that I was referencing. I was sitting in a bath and listening to Pyramid Electric Company. That’s how important he was to me.
“JM” is a powerful piece of music in and of itself, even more so because it does justice to one of the titanic songwriters of our time. Hear it at NPR.