Michael Gira, he of The Swans and owner of the Young Gods label, claims that we're witnessing the rise of a very important new voice in James Jackson Toth, aka Wooden Wand, and it's difficult to argue once you lay an ear to this disc, though I wouldn't quite laud Toth to the heights of Dylan and Willie Nelson as Gira does. Still, there's a very classic sense a la Don Nix, John Prine, and others present in a smoky, swirling, vaguely backwoods Southern vibe that transmutes with numerous weird folk moves clearly identifying why Gira would have desired to sign the guy—who was once courted by Ryko in that label's long odd history—for the YG label.
In fact, those very incorporations sometimes edge Toth's work into Robbie Robertson territory, though not via Robertson's exacting solo finesse, more in The Band's widely reputed sure hand in purposeful rustic slop and carefree cornfield sentiment (here minus the weighty presence of organ). Like The Band's materials, though, Toth's lyrics carry more than at first seems evident, rife with moralism, chuckles, uncluttered insights, and eerie happenstance. Gira nails it when he describes Toth as picaresque and shambolic while attributing his scenarios as harrowing and darkly comical. By the time Ms. Mowse is arrived at, overtones of Kris Kristofferson slip in, Until Wrong Looks Right redoubling those inferences.
Toth sings, plays, and composes with attitude, with a leer, with a grimace, but always with a sensitivity adapting itself to the subject matter; thus, the disc becomes emotionally complex. This may be his great strength though the compositional methods are equally attractive, rootsy and Village-era oriented. There's quite a bit of darkness present—the Lou Reed aspects will come as no surprise; if, that is, Reed were a bohunk—and then a slew of hilarious interpositions and jes' plain folks rhapsodizing. Like so many Young God releases, Death Seat is just traditional enough and just unorthodox enough to make one wonder just how he should be listening to it. That alone is reason enough for recommendations, over and above all other virtues.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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