Wooden Wand - Farmer's Corner

by David Bruggink Rating:8 Release Date:2014-05-05

I'm excited when I discover an artist who offers something a little bit different with their take on country music. Last year, it was The Pines (specifically, their atmospheric folk album Dark So Gold - think The Tallest Man on Earth meets The Blue Nile); this year, it might just be Wooden Wand, aka James Jackson Toth. On Farmer's Corner, Toth is joined by bassist Darin Gray, a frequent collaborator with Jim O'Rourke, primitive guitar talent, William Tyler, and guitarist Doc Feldman, with whom Toth co-founded the alt-country/folk group Good Saints.

Wooden Wand first caught my attention with the graceful 'Dambuilding', on which Toth's singing, nonchalant yet elegant, is paired with a lonesome slide-guitar reminiscent of Calexico's Feast of Wire. A subtle banjo riff fleshes out the rhythm created by resolutely strummed acoustic, while a deep tone - perhaps cello or even synthesizer - undergirds the composition, and swells to the surface from time to time.

The reflective, almost jazzy mood of 'Dambuilding', which isn't too far from something like John Martyn's 'Solid Air', is a good example of Wooden Wand's light hand and nuanced approach to instrumentation. Toth's vocals and acoustic guitar provide the foundation, while Gray, Tyler, and Feldman add color, depth, and complexity. At times, their playing is lithe and expressive ('When the Trail Goes Cold'), or jangly and lyrical as on 'Sinking Feelings', where Wooden Wand's country influences are more readily apparent.

There is some wonderful playing here. Dave Anderson's pedal-steel makes 'Home + Horizon' a vision of bucolic tranquility; 'Uneasy Peace' rests on softly roiling, golden guitar tones which elevate its simple chord pattern to an almost spiritual level.

In fact, the stellar musicianship can make Toth's equally interesting lyrics easy to miss the first time around. His imagery can be enjoyably enigmatic, as on 'Alpha Dawn', where he sings, "That constellation's one I thought was gone/ I could see the skin of snakes around your arm". Toth's cadence - coarse at a distance, but refined close up - is ideal for his colloquial approach to exploring deeper subjects, as on 'Uneasy Peace': "I have reached an uneasy peace/ with a Yankee Christ who begs that I don't lie/ It's a chemical arrangement; see him when I wanna".

'Alpha Dawn', a rumination on the gradual disintegration of the physical universe as well as our own memories, shows it would be a disservice to refer to this as a mere 'country' album. Though that label might seem to fit its melodies at times, it is more musically and lyrically complex than one expects from most alt-folk or alt-country artists working today. Toth seems to have a voice beyond his years, both literally and figuratively, and this excellent effort suggests that there are even better things to come from Wooden Wand.

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