By John Adamian
12:54 PM PST, January 8, 2013
On the new Wooden Wand record, Blood Oaths of the New Blues, songwriter James Jackson Toth is plowing new terrain, mixing short-story narratives, spooky laments, diesel-blues and grain-alcohol folk. To my ear a lot of “Americana” is basically Southern kitsch, people sort of aping some weird pantomime of the mistaken idea that the rest of the country has about what goes down below the Mason Dixon Line. But Toth, who records under the name Wooden Wand, or just Wand, does the complexity of the world justice. You can feel Kentucky coming through: green hills, interstates, strip malls, imposing mountains and smoke. His songs are three-chord strummers, and the melodies are strangely familiar, but it’s the lyrics that haunt and bind you up. There’s a kind of wandering desolation, a born-again fervor and a pill-popping mania that makes it all simmer together really nicely. He released a more roots-rocking record, Briarwood Deluxe, last year, but his first effort of 2013 -- bound to be one of many from this prolific performer this year -- is a little more solemn, brooding and saturnine. In places he seems to be channeling some murky and death-addled old history of riverboats on the Mississippi and frontier explorers. There’s murder, cosmic coercion, dark dreams, uncertainty, guilt, and emptiness baked into these tunes -- not everyone’s favorite combo. But the song “Outsider Blues” is both deep and funny, with its riffs on the Stones’ Sticky Fingers making any music nerd chuckle.