What’s New About These Blues?
Wooden Wand describes only one of James Jackson Toth’s many incarnations. He has recorded simply as WAND, in addition to contributing to Vanishing Voices and The Briarwood Virgins. Toth’s earlier endeavors included wild, psychedelic sounds as well as twangy, country-accented rock. But Wooden Wand’s latest album, Blood Oathes of the New Blues, expresses thoughtful and introspective lyrics in a straightforward, stripped-down manner—no bells and whistles or wacked-out effects. Though this simple platform offers a more accessible stage for Toth’s artful words, the complete product remains, frankly, boring.
Longtime fans of Wooden Wand or WAND may enjoy the singer-songwriter’s newfound calm, but listeners looking for full, engaging, catchy soft rock will be disappointed. The drums sound robotic and elementary as they lope in the same constant rhythm through every track. Similarly, the guitar effect rarely changes. This consistency alone does not handicap the music, but the chord progressions and strumming patterns also remain simple and predicable. “No Debts,” a track laden with lyric potential, falls short due to this sort of flatlined production.
The gem of Blood Oathes of the New Blues, however, peeks out after one or two listens. “Southern Colorado Song” departs from its lackluster partners. Over six minutes, the song swells and calms, Toth’s voice (a tender cousin of Bob Dylan) assisted by ethereal background vocals. The combination of expanded vocals and the songwriter’s atmospheric lyrics results in the fullest, meatiest track on the record. “Life goes by so fast but its minutes drag on slow / Sometimes nowhere seems the only place to go,” Toth laments, verbally matching the very deserts and valleys of the song’s title.
The folky singer-songwriter persona has become as common as the glitzy pop star over the past decade. So if Toth continues to diverge from his earlier, experimental projects, then he should develop a distinct, specific style or motif to set him apart. Rather than Wonderbread soft rock, Wooden Wand might benefit from some twang. Bringing in a banjo is never a bad idea.