Blood Oaths Of The New Blues
Andrew Richardson, January 16, 2013
Listen: “Jhonn Balance”
There are times when I wonder if James Jackson Toth will release an eight-track tape. The truth of the matter is, he may have, and I just missed it. If he hasn’t, he should — it might be the only medium on which he hasn’t released material. For better or worse, Wooden Wand (Toth) has been in my life in some form or another since the early portion of the aught. He was one of the first of the New Weird America freak-folk scene that I heard. I won’t forget the first night that I saw him. It was a crazy-ass venue in Charlottesville, at a tea house. That’s right, tea. Not coffee. He was playing with The Vanishing Voice at that point, a psych-noise outfit from Tennessee, Toth’s home after he moved from upstate New York.
I’ve seen Wooden Wand a handful of times after that magical night in a tea house. The last time, I realized how much he has changed over the years. Somewhere along the lines, he found his soul. From freak-folk he grew into a prolific songwriter. While his feet stay planted in that scene, his sound grew. Gone are the days of the monotone CD-R recordings. With the formation of the “sort-of” super-group, The Briarwood Virgins, came a change. Toth’s gargling gravel and honey vocals were made for country-tinged rock. The release of Briarwood proved that. The big sound blew through the speakers and I realized, Little Jimmy had grown up quickly. Laden with whiskey-soaked philosophy and pedal-steel galore, it makes you feel his life. Wooden Wand didn’t write Nebraska, he lived it. By the time you hit “Passin Thru,”, your bags are packed. The only thing you wanna see is the old haunts of the South, some cryptic ghosts and perhaps a liquor store on the way.
Toth described Blood Oaths Of The New Blues as “Sunday morning’s wake and bake,” after “Briarwood’s Saturday night revelry.” He couldn’t be more right. The same formula is back. The ruckus that was brought on that release is slowed down to a standstill. Still, it stands as a firm record, one that’s made for those lazy Sunday mornings; an album for nursing hangovers.
Among the tales of bank-robbers , religion, and mile-markers, there’s a ditty about former Coil member, Jhonn Balance and his death. From the opening (two-song) eleven minute track ‘No Bed for Beatle Wand/Days This Long,’ you get an idea of what this record is going to be. It’s dark. It’s gloomy. It’s not going to be a feel-good album of the year. What lies inside is a man who wrestles with identity.
This isn’t as big of a game-changer as Briarwood was. That’s not to say it’s bad; quite to the contrary, it’s solid. Following that album was going to be difficult. So much so, it’s almost impossible to not think of this as a continuation, even though it is two separate entities. Gone are the days of musical wandering that Vanishing Voice conjured. It was magic for tweakers. These days Wooden Wand is a more textured, song-driven force to deal with. The magic is still there (maybe more so) but this time around it’s not as loose. If you’ve given up on Toth, try it again. You’ll be excited he found his soul.
Official music video for “Supermoon (The Sounding Line)”