James Jackson Toth Waiting in Vain

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Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: outlaw country, folk, classic rock
Others: Tanya Tucker, D. Charles Speer, Turner Cody

If James & the Quiet wasn’t a loud gunshot alerting trespassers that change was coming, the canon blast of Waiting in Vain should leave Toth’s sonic shift reverberating through the valley.

James Toth’s fascination with the creaky sounds of country continues to purge his earlier psychedelic fixations. Waiting in Vain, Toth’s first solo effort out from under the Wooden Wand banner, continues down the beaten trails of out-of-the-way dirt roads and rolling green valleys intended to be scenery and pit stops for hurried travelers more accustomed to life on the interstate sprawl. Toth’s younger days of capturing the big city and bright lights of pulsating psych rock and blistering free-folk have succumbed to his desire to escape to the quiet outskirts of Tennessee.

But Waiting in Vain doesn’t completely shake off the bombastic sounds of Toth’s not-so-distant past — those acid-washed moments find their way into Toth’s country nostalgia. For every tear in his beer, there’s also a Cheshire grin reflecting back from the half-empty pint. While loyal subjects may feel betrayed by the move from the commune to the tavern, it’s Toth’s desire to drink alone that has wrought on of the better juke joint albums of the decade. With good jukebox jams becoming scarce, Toth has taken it upon himself to make an album to which we can crawl into the bottom of a bottle, kiss on our loved ones, and reminisce without having to scour pages of bad bar songs. Toth gives us a taste of Charlie Pride country-soul (“Look In on Me”), Joni Mitchell confessional (“Do What You Can”), Conway Twitty longing (“Doreen”), and a bit from his abandoned alter-ego (“The Dome”).

Waiting in Vain is the confident voice of a man happy to embrace his love of the classics of country, soul, and folk scattered in cheap bins at truck stops. Toth has turned fixation of the forgotten and neglected into an eclectic mix, unlike much of his earlier work. His time on endless highways has delivered Toth from his tunnel vision, revealing a world of sights and sounds often ignored in a world propped up by emerging technologies and tabloid sensationalism. Indeed, Waiting in Vain captures the modest landscape of America’s backroads and countrysides. Not everything happens at the breakneck pace of the big city. Toth has stopped to run amongst the wildflowers and sip the bathtub gin; Waiting in Vain is his invitation for us to do the same.

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