California Literary Review

Album Review: Wooden Wand’s Blood Oaths of the New Blues

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January 22nd, 2013 at 9:17 am

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Artist: Wooden Wand

Album: Blood Oaths of the New Blues

CLR Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Wooden Wand is one of those intriguing little one-man-bands that often has the capacity to touch the heart. James Jackson Toth, the man that is the band, frequently creates emotional landscapes in a folk rock atmosphere. But while Wooden Wand has ventured into the territory of the heart in the past, Blood Oaths of the New Blues seems content to remain a more intellectual venture.

Blood Oaths of the New Blues has some interesting elements – in particular a trend to begin each song with a long, drawn-out note that sometimes ventures into the realm of experimental atonality – but the album overall feels like a series of progressions that never truly climax. Sometimes, as in the case of “Southern Colorado Song,” there’s even an eventual regression at the point where the song would generally build. This reduction of fervor and intensity, while interesting to listen to, creates a kind of abstraction and distance that is difficult to appreciate on a basic emotional level.

The song “Dome Community People (Are Good People)” uses the feeling of progression to good effect, creating a solemn, steady build that feels a bit like a melancholic parade approaching and then abruptly receding from the listener. Unfortunately since the mood of the album never shifts – either to darker or lighter places – “Dome Community People (Are Good People)” acts as a model of the entire album. The listener is held in suspended emotional animation, waiting for a push in one direction or another, but destined to be disappointed in that regard.

The lyrics of the songs ramble in that signature, country-tinged way that James Jackson Toth possesses, but within this album feel indistinct rather than sharp. There’s something of a poetry reading to the rambles, but instead of coming across as sincere and vulnerable, there’s a bit of a constructed barrier to navigate. While long-time fans of Wooden Wand might embrace this venture, the album James & The Quiet – which has less head and a bit more heart – might be a better introduction for newer fans.

  • Melo

    Re: “creates a kind of abstraction and distance that is difficult to appreciate on a basic emotional level” — I disagree completely. I find this record incredibly moving as well as full of highs and lows, particularly “Outsider Blues” and the wistfully beautiful closer, “No Debts.”

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