A bit snowed under with auspicious new things today, amongst them the CSNY live album, Damon Albarn’s “Monkey: Journey To The West”, a new Bonnie Prince Billy live set and, perfect for this heat, Brightblack Morning Light’s superb “Motion To Rejoin”.
While I get my head round all these, a mention for a couple of very fine records I’ve neglected to write about in the past few weeks. One is by James Jackson Toth, who’s figured here in the past when he was known as Wooden Wand. To recap: Wooden Wand originally fronted a ragged and delirious collective called The Vanishing Voice, who operated vaguely in the interstices between folk, jazz, rock and general clattery leftfield improv in much the same way as, say, Sunburned Hand Of The Man.
All well and good. Of late, however, Wand has been heading down a more orthodox, and surprisingly more satisfying route, showcased on 2006’s “Second Guessing” and last year’s Lee Ranaldo-produced “James And The Quiet”. This time out, with “Waiting In Vain”, Toth has reclaimed his real name and made his straightest record yet.
Like those last couple of records, the influence of Dylan hangs heavy over parts of this, especially the rackety faster tracks like the Rolling Thunder-ish “Beulah The Good”. But Toth is shaping more of an individual sonic character to match his myth-heavy lyrics – even if that character seems firmly and purposefully stuck in a deep 1975 singer-songwriter place.
In this, he’s recruited another stellar crew, with Andy Cabic and Otto Hauser of the Vetiver/Devendra family, Carla Bozulich, one of Deerhoof and, most pronouncedly, the mighty Nels Cline, currently embedded in Wilco. It’s Cline, I suspect, who shreds up the climax of “The Banquet Styx” in the style, as Phil here pointed out this morning, of Robert Quine.
There’s a countryish lilt to some of Toth’s writing, too, which he shares with TK Webb. Webb first made it onto my radar a couple of years back with “Phantom Parade”, a decently grimy stab at Americana which betrayed vague sympathies with people like William Elliot Whitmore and Mark Lanegan. Now, it seems, Webb is taking the reverse path to Lanegan, since TK Webb & The Visions’ “Ancestor” finds him trying on the sort of rootsy grunge that isn’t dissimilar to how those early/mid ‘90s Screaming Trees albums sounded.
It’s a good fit for Webb, and his new band – featuring various bits of Love As Laughter, whose new record I should write about, too – sound cool: very heavy, discreetly psychedelic. The essence of his songwriting – earthy, measured, possibly the product of hearing one or two Neil Young albums at a formative point in time – hasn’t really changed that much. But this thick, seething makeover really suits him. A great opening track, “Teen Is Still Shaking”, sets the agenda very clearly.