Wooden Wand - Blood Oaths of the New Blues - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Wooden Wand - Blood Oaths of the New Blues

by Andy Brown Rating:7 Release Date:2013-01-07

Blood Oaths of the New Blues follows on from 2010 masterpiece Death Seat and last year's Briarwood LP and finds James Jackson Toth on impressively inspiring form. Whereas Briarwood saw Toth adopt a more electrified, perhaps more upbeat tone, Blood Oaths… is a subtlety reflective record, ideal for those particularly hungover Sunday mornings.

The album opens with the 11-minute 'No Bed for Beatle Wand/Days this Long'. It begins as a blissful lullaby of a song, sliding into view with dreamy atmospherics and a subtle xylophone line before Toth's distinctive drawl comes in. The track is essentially two separate songs and the 'Days this Long' section is equally as beautiful as Toth croons: "Days this long drawn out, sometimes there's simply no middle ground, who's gonna keep me from freaking out?" It's an incredibly sweet and heartfelt piece of songwriting.

'Outsider Blues' is a gorgeous rebel waltz, with Toth singing about two friends driving out of town, experimenting with some unspecified 'pills' and listening to music: "So I played Sticky Fingers and I sang along to each word of each song, Christie drove with two fingers on the steering wheel, drumming…" Toth always manages to add a touch of genuine optimism to his gently melancholic compositions; it comes in this track as he defiantly repeats: "Outsider blues with little to lose…"

'Dome Community People (Are Good People)' serves as a short, unexpectedly loud blues intermission before 'Dungeon of Irons' gentle chords drift in and Toth wonders: "Do the innocent die differently from the guilty? I don't know." Death is always a subject Toth seems drawn towards but the record is far from morbid or uncomfortable; perversely, it's quite life affirming. This contradiction between subject matter and overall effect is further emphasised by 'Supermoon (The Sounding Line)'. The song's lyrics seem to refer to drowning but the music's country lilt and duetting vocals makes it a soothing and beautiful composition.

'Southern Colorado Song' is perhaps one of the album's strongest songs. It's an account of the Doherty Gang's infamous crime spree but is subtle and cryptic enough to be open to interpretation as you listen to it through headphones and Toth sings: " Keep your eyes fixed on the shadows, you'll find me". Next up, Toth pays tribute to one of music's most overlooked frontmen with the sweetly tender 'Jhonn Balance': "I was thinking about John Balance, how he seemed like a man you could trust…" Balance was the frontman of experimental legends Coil and he passed away in 2004. The album closes with the brief 'No Debts' with Toth hoping for a more straight forward future as he sings: "Smooth sailing now...".

James Jackson Toth's ruminations on mortality and life in general are as thought-provoking as ever and his music as gorgeous. If you have enjoyed records by Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Ryan Adams or Bill Callahan then you'll certainly find a lot to love in Blood Oaths of the New Blues. While his records are initially subtle, the more you listen the more involving they become. Toth makes the kind of records you'll find yourself returning to again and again. Blood Oaths of the New Blues will soundtrack many a wet January morning.

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