James Jackson Toth, AKA Wooden Wand is your fearless friend, the stumbling guy that goes out and gets himself into some incredibly fucked-up situations but comes out shining and lives to tell you all about it, entertaining you safely and immensely. You should be grateful. His songs are beautiful, indisputably, both musically and lyrically, and they’ll give you joy if you listen to them. In my view, he’s a great American songwriter in full bloom.
Most likely you’ll think that’s a preposterous claim, and I won’t blame you, but you’ll be totally, completely, and unforgivably wrong to think so. James is a natural. To me it’s obvious he’s animated with the same spirit that’s moved through Willie, Waylon, Merle, and Hank. Not to say he sounds like them, but his songs unfurl with a similar casual authority. There’s no space between who he is and the work he does—never without a guitar, and always writing or listening to/seeking out new music. He’s inhabited. If there were justice in this world, which there isn’t, he’d be on tour right now with Willie Nelson as an honored guest. He’s got that picaresque quality that Dylan had in his heyday, wherein the shambolic narrator undergoes various travails and epiphanies—harrowing, bleak and darkly comical—in the course of a narrative, then leaves you mystified, both smiling and sad.
I laugh out loud when I hear some of the lines in these songs, they’re just so immediate and vivid. The pathos sometimes can leave you, frankly, drained, but the language and the singing is effortless and without loaded portent— it goes down smooth. He’s got a million “zingers,” as he calls them—the sort of concise one- or two-line descriptions that set up the atmosphere for a song instantly. Really, if Nashville were a place where one could peddle great songs anymore, James would be the king of the place. He’s a passionate singer and guitar player and inhabits the songs as he performs them with straightforward, unpretentious, and confident gravitas. I’ve been listening to this record over and over for the last several months—we went through dozens of equally compelling songs before choosing the line up of tracks—and the more I listen, the more honored I am to be associated with James Jackson Toth.
James has previously released records with Kill Rock Stars and Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label; Lee Renaldo produced one of them. He also had a sad slide with Ryko Records. When I heard the latter record I could not believe how good it was and I was pissed off and saddened that it did not do right by James. My humble hope here now is that his music will reach people in a direct and clear and powerful way, because the world needs more truth and passion, and James most definitely supplies it. These songs are a flat-out pleasure to listen to, and each one brings further rewards on repeated listening.
Last time I talked to James, he was laying floors down in Murfreesboro, TN. He is not a hipster, that is for sure, and God bless him. The songs are literate, and there’s a painful irony in some of them, but the level of commitment and sweet passion is rare, and born of hard earned experience. Listen to his music!
- Thanks, Michael Gira – Young God Records
Musicians include members of Glossary, Lambchop, Silver Jews, Mercury Rev, Fire on Fire/Big Blood
James Jackson Toth: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, vocals; Brian Lowery: pedal steel, dobro, organ, electric piano, vocals; William Tyler (Lambchop, Silver Jews): electric guitar; grasshopper: acoustic and electric mandolin, acoustic piano; DM Seidel: acoustic piano, electric bass, electric guitar; Joey Kneiser (Glossary): electric guitar, acoustic guitar; Bingham Barnes(Glossary): electric bass; Spencer Duncan: upright bass; Casey Kaufman: cello; Andrew Mosiman: fiddle; Caleb Mulkerin (Big Blood/Fire on Fire): electric guitar, vocals; Colleen Kinsella (Big Blood/Fire on Fire): vocals; Kerry Kennedy: vocals; Siobhan Duffy Gira: vocals; Tyler Coppage: drums, percussion; Kenny Siegal – theramin, mandolin, additional percussion.
Produced by M. Gira. Recorded by Joey Kneiser and Stephen Goose Trageser at the Haunted Mansion, Murfreesboro, TN., January 2-10, 2010 and Kenny Siegal at Old Soul Studios, Catskill, NY, January 16-17, 2010. Mixed by M. Gira and Kevin McMahon at Marcata Studio, Gardiner, NY, June 2010.