Wooden Wand - Death Seat

by Andy Brown Rating:9 Release Date:2010-10-25

Wooden Wand, or James Jackson Toth as his friends call him, is a rather talented songsmith and if you haven't heard him before it's something of a revelatory experience. Toth has released albums under his Wooden Wand moniker as well his real name, WAND and as frontman to the now disbanded The Vanishing Voice. Toth is currently signed to Michael Giras' ever-impressive Young God Records and Gira, as you'd expect, is something of a fan. It's on the Young God website that Gira describes Toth as nothing less than "…a great American songwriter in full bloom" with the spirit of "Willie, Waylon, Merle and Hank". "Listen to his music!" demands Gira and, dear reader, you should heed his words…

Death Seat is a stunningly accomplished record and one where Toth exudes a beautifully melancholic, world-weary insight along with an unflinching commitment to his craft. Opening with the lush, country swoon of 'Sleepwalking After Midnight', it's as if you're listening to a reinvigorated and newly inspired Dylan at his most heartfelt and direct. "Should I find my way to your room, we'll pin all the blame on the moon…" croons Toth; it's a gorgeous ballad and a captivating start. 'The Mountain' is a more stripped back affair and again brings to mind a younger Bob Dylan, Circa The Times They Are a-Changin'. There's a stark poetic beauty to Toths' songwriting and, despite the endless comparisons, a confidence and uniqueness to his songs. There's a casual authority to Toths arrangements and a natural feel to the flow of the album; in many ways these are songs that had to be written.

The haunting 'Servant to Blues' mixes the sparseness of Bonnie 'Prince' Billy circa I See A Darkness with hints of Nick Cave at his most subtle with it's hypnotic mantra of "Only servant to blues, would wait this long for you". Next up, 'Bobby' is subdued, gorgeous and quietly encouraging as Toth consoles another lonely soul: "Oh Bobby, you ain't as bad as they say". 'I Made You' is a ghostly echo of a song as Toth croons over quietly plucked strings: "I made you baby, I made you out of clay…" It's half crestfallen and half undisclosed threat; it's the kind of song that could silence any room. Title track 'Death Seat' is an album highlight, with it's quietly crooned backing vocals drawing those Bonnie 'Prince' Billy comparisons again. If you're not careful Wooden Wand may just go and break your heart.

'I Wanna Make a Difference in Your Life' is just over two minutes of sweet, well-humoured and tender perfection. During 'Ms Mowse', Toths deep croon sounds regretful and lonesome as he sings "Send me your benevolent angels, I'll make whores of them one by one". There's a directness and frank immediacy to these songs, the occasional lyric catching you off guard with its upfront honesty. It's during 'Until Wrong Looks Right' that Toths thoughts turn to more domestic matters as he wonders aloud "I live alone, do I shut the bathroom door? Who do I set this table for?" Next we have 'Hotel Bar' which will undoubtedly have you cracking open that bottle of whiskey and staring thoughtfully into the fire. 'The Arc' is a short, beautiful, country-tinged sing-along while 'Tiny Confessions' is a stunning, sad eyed lament.

With Death Seat Wooden Wand has positioned himself somewhere between traditional troubadours such as Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan as well as more contemporary songwriters like Cave, Billy and even Giras' own Angels of Light, and that is no bad place to be. Death Seat is an absolute classic.

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