Album of the week : Blood Oaths Of The New Blues - Wooden Wand

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

Wooden Wand’s latest offering from the world of gritty guitar riffs and bluesy vocals is only eight tracks long, but as always, it’s the quality not the quantity that really matters

Many of the musicians on Briarwood return here, making this the only solo Wooden Wand album to feature the same consecutive players and the first Wooden Wand solo album to be recorded in the same consecutive studio (Ol Elegante in Homewood, AL) as the previous album. Somewhere along the line Wooden Wand have become a BAND. David Hickox, Janet Elizabeth Simpson, Jody Nelson, Brad Davis and Les Nuby III make up the band, and it’s a testament to their versatility to note that this same group who pulled off slow-burn rock epics like ‘Motel Stationery’ and Stones-y, soulful jams like the cover of Jim Ford’s classic ‘Big Mouth USA’ last time around could so artfully and effortlessly create a follow-up that does not contain a single guitar solo, snare hit, or country affectation. Harmonium, organ and disembodied vocals are the order of the day here, with back-masking and subliminal messages added to enhance the trip

Opening track ‘No Bed for Beatle Wand/Days This Long’ is over 10 minutes long… without you even realising it. Purely instrumental for the first third, this really does reel you in as you anticipate the introduction of the vocals time after time again. Soothing and deep, by the time the familiar sounding voice of Wooden Wand appears, creeping through the beguiling instrumental opening like a thief in the night, you’re in the mood for more.  It’s an incredibly sweet and heartfelt piece of songwriting

‘Outsider Blues’ tells an involved tale of two lovers on a psychedelic road trip to a blues festival, with mundane details about the start of the trip turning into a mid-level existential crisis. Spiritual weariness melding with everyday scenes comes up a few times, with references to near death experiences and stopping at Walmart appearing in the same song. Janet Simpson mirrors Toth’s haunted vocals on ‘Supermoon (The Sounding Line)’, and her pedal steel contributions to the song drag its borderline suicidal lyrics out of the spotlight, leaving a deceptively happy musical shell around what might be the album’s darkest topical moments. Even in its hopeful segments, there’s a spookiness that defines the album

‘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

‘Southern Colorado Song’ is perhaps the album’s strongest song. It’s an account of the Dougherty Gang’s infamous crime spree of 2011, 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…”

What strikes you about Blood Oaths of the New Blues is the expressiveness of the lyrics. It’s as if “The Wand” is creating his own folk tales about life, love and loss to run parallel with those hundreds of years old. The individual narratives from one song to the next transform this album into an emotional ride through the life of James, putting those many other singer-songwriters out there to shame

Whilst it can be moody, don’t confuse Blood Oaths of the New Blues with depressing. It’s emotive and deep, and for anyone swinging towards folk style blues as a latest musical venture, this could be the opening you’re looking for

Buy it here

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January 11, 2013

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