Wooden Wand James & The Quiet

[Ecstatic Peace; 2007]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: folk rock, classic rock, free-folk
Others: Six Organs of Admittance, Tony Joe White, Merle Haggard, Feathers

James Toth had a vision — one so unusual and clever he brought it forth to Andrew Kesin and Thurston Moore of Ecstatic Peace only to be met with astonished looks and confounded expressions. As he drove road upon endless road, Toth turned to the familiar country outlaws of Haggard, Nelson, and Kristoppherson. Finding solace in a forgotten sound — and moreso a forgotten ethic — he brought forth his innermost twang, his deepest southern roots, and set forth to create an album planted firmly in the soil. Seeds begot roots; roots begot buds; buds begot plants; plants begot flora. Flora blossomed into James & The Quiet.

Those long-forgotten ethics of country — truth, spirituality, and personal sacrifice — are rife throughout James & The Quiet, James Toth's most grounded and earnest release to date. The album is rich with mythology of godly and humanly proportions. Toth has laid a delicate hand upon his oft-psychedelic, always freakish sound. Toth takes a long, hard look at his surroundings, much like the godfathers of outlaw in their prime. Songs brimming with this much observation and introspection don't just fall from the sky. Though Toth was clearly influenced by digging through truck stop discount bins, there's also an ever-present feeling that these tracks had been lying low within Toth for quite some time, just waiting for the appropriate moment to rise to the surface. Considering that James & The Quiet is rumored to be Wooden Wand's swansong (though not that of the man behind the name), this batch of bard speak serves as a fitting farewell to an era that's been ready to move on for a while.

Calling the album a modern interpretation of classic country may be a stretch, as it leans on Toth's signature rock tweaks and aloof storytelling, but I can't help but think of Willie Nelson's Red Headed Stranger with each passing listen. The production style of James & The Quiet mimics the sparse aesthetic of Nelson’s landmark album, and although Toth doesn’t dare tackle an album’s worth of dialogue, his use of interesting and unusual storytelling techniques lend themselves to the outlaw movement. “Invisible Children” is a delicate interpretation of old country ethos (spirituality, gunplay, and salvation) that blends well with Toth’s take on the sound he’s channeling throughout the album. The death march of “We Must Also Love the Thieves” is as low-down and remorseful as folk and country come. The deconstructed “Spitting at the Camera” is fireside folk at its finest. Jessica Toth’s backing vocals are haunting throughout the traditional melody and transform “Spitting at the Camera” into a fragile hymnal.

It’s easy to snicker at the idea of Wooden Wand’s interpretation of classic country, and although songs such as “The Pushers” and “Future Dream” are more Dylan and Young than Haggard and Waylon, they fit snuggly within the themes of James & The Quiet. There are life lessons and observations to be learned from Toth’s parting words as Wooden Wand — a cautionary tale that isn’t brimming with lost dogs, train-hopping, and lost loves. Toth chooses to go the forgotten route, and for that, we all get one more sweet smell of country air before the petals fall off and winter’s cold air claims the old country sound for itself once more.

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