Release Date: May 6, 2014
Record label: Fire Records
Genre(s): Country, Americana, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter, Indie Folk
If a tree writes a masterpiece in a forest but no one is around to hear it, is it still a masterpiece? What if a Wooden Wand writes a hundred of them? America's most underrated songwriter, James Jackson Toth, ploughs forth with Farmer's Corner, blessing us with nine more tracks of divinely remarkable alt-country-acid-folk. With more of a laid-back, romantic, and optimistic vibe than last year's sinister Blood Oaths of the New Blues, this latest addition to his unrivaled oeuvre shows no signs of Toth slowing down or petering out. His powers don't diminish and his voice just gets richer.
"You’ve always been cryptic, but this is ridiculous,” sings James Jackson Toth on “Uneasy Peace”, a standout on Farmer's Corner, his latest album as Wooden Wand. It’s a cheeky assessment of someone’s inscrutability, possibly his own. Throughout the last decade Toth has released a steady stream of rangy folk, rock, and folk-rock records under various guises.
The last we heard from Wooden Wand—née James Jackson Toth—was way back in 2013, when he released Wooden Wand and the World War IV, a plugged-in album that might as well have been Side B of Rust Never Sleeps, when you compare it with the mellower folk/psych excursions of previous offerings like Blood Oaths of the New Blues. Toth’s latest, Farmer’s Corner is a return to Wooden Wand’s bread and butter: elliptical, leisurely paced gothic folk-rock, custom-made for slate-gray Sunday afternoons. Written, recorded and produced on the road when the spirit struck Toth, six of the album’s nine tracks clock in at north of five minutes, though nothing here feels jammy or excessive, as Toth spins cosmic twang on the opener “Alpha Dawn” (triangulating Beachwood Sparks, Mark Pickerel and the Anomoanon).
Although 2011’s Briarwood and 2013’s Blood Oaths Of The New Blues had suggested that James Jackson Toth was seeking to settle Wooden Wand down into a more stable configuration with a more fixed label home at Fire Records, the last year has proved otherwise. Through some download-only rarities closet clearing at his Bandcamp outlet, the sublime stripped-down 3 Songs 7” EP on 25 Diamonds and a sprawling psyche-rock inclined vinyl-only album on Three Lobed Recordings, JJT has merely reinforced his reputation as a restless journeyman, almost incapable of making the same kind of record twice in a row (or at all), which is of course part of his charm, even if it throws some people off the scent from release-to-release. Thus, this new ostensibly ‘official’ Wooden Wand album for Fire finds yet another configuration and sound for the forever-rotating enterprise after another period of flux and extracurricular activities.
James Jackson Toth, aka Wooden Wand, is a renowned nomad, one whose insatiable wanderlust comes equipped with a delightful penchant for heroic fantasy. His songs carry not only the rustic tinge of alt-country melody and light-handed, twangy guitar-work, but also the frittered, mystical bewilderment of the Wild West. His latest, Farmer’s Corner, takes an emotional journey all its own, trudging across conflicting moods—from hopeful to morose, lavish to disparate, whimsical to harrowed.
Dropping the needle on Farmer's Corner, you might think that James Toth, who's worked for many years under the nom de plume Wooden Wand, has settled comfortably into domestic bliss with his wife and their sheepdog. Where his last three albums progressed towards a marriage of earthy, electric psychedelia and ear-splitting No Wave gravel, FC opening track "Alpha Dawn" is an easygoing, upbeat trip to the country. But underneath the pastoral bounce lie persistent questions about the nature of being settled – not stalking like a hungry predator, but ancient and immobile, truths as hard and as well-hidden as bedrock.