album review: wooden wand – blood oaths of the new blues

hopscotch music festival 2012: wooden wand

Wooden Wand — Blood Oaths Of The New Blues. Out 1/8, Fire Records.

One of the only problems I have with Hopscotch is that sometimes, I just get so damned overwhelmed by all my choices that I’m unable to make one at all. This happened last year, on Friday night; I was slumped in a chair near the back of the Berkeley Cafe, having just watched Wylie Hunter & the Cazadores’ high energy set, and I was trying to decide how soon I was going to get back on my feet, and where I was going to take my blisters when I was did.

I didn’t end up taking my blisters anywhere, because James Jackson Toth, aka Wooden Wand, came out onstage and pinned me straight to my seat with his set. Along with only one other musician, he proceeded to play a 45 minute set of complex rootsy songs all of which made me think of something broader and bigger and more open than the Berkeley, downtown Raleigh, my blistered feet. His set took me out of myself for 45 minutes, and that is hard to do at Hopscotch, which is a perpetual whirl of consciousness.

Blood Oathes Of The New Blues is his latest release, and it’s as layered and Western horizon as that set was. Starting with 13 minute opened “Days This Long”, a song in which Toth’s vocals don’t even being until the 3:30 minute, the record is a hypnotic landscape full of eloquent wordsmith lyrics and pain and longing and ringing guitars. The first I listened to the record, I was struck by the soundscape — every song is simple, in its patterns and its repetitions, but those patterns are made by such a wide variety of instruments that they congeal into songs that are easy to hear simply for their sound, Toth’s voice just another texture and tone in the sonic pictures that he is painting.

The second time I listened to the record, it was the lyrics that were all I could hear. It’s an album full of longing and loving and losing, the perfect lyrics to go with this lonely horizon of wheezing guitars and cactuses and empty highways. “No Debts”, with its album-closing promise to move forward, has already set up a place in the opening quarter of my 2013 year end record; no debts, no liens, no postponement of dreams, Toth sings, and that line is only one of many that resonates across the wideness of this record. “Southern Colorado Song” cries, the day of reckoning’s upon me, but right now i need some rest, something I know that we’ve all felt. This record is deeply personal but widely accessible; it feels as if it could have been lifted from my own notebooks, except that my lines are not as strong as Toth’s. Blood Oaths is doubly layered, deep with sound and with words.

Last year I fell in love with Damien Jurado’s Maraqopa in February; this year I have fallen in love with Blood Oaths of the New Blues in January. This will be in my top five, mark my words, come December. It should be in yours, too.

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