Blood Oaths of the New Blues
This is the 14th album by Wooden Wand, the name James Jackson Toth uses for his broken-arsed folk-meets-country, heck use the Americana tag if you must – it’s likely this’ll be the best Americana album of the year.
Toth is a great songwriter and across the lengthy opener, No Bed For Beatle Wand/Days This Long and the gorgeously languid Outsider Blues he shows that he’s the more rustic/rusted side of the coin from the sparkly/shiny broken-down but upbeat-sounding country blues that Phosphorescent has been shaping.
Toth often gets written up as yet another “New Dylan”, that compliment/curse used less often these days of course, but you can hear in his sound time spent listening to John Fahey and Buddy Miller, Daniel Lanois and the Kurts Vile and Wagner. You can hear the sound of a songwriter evolving, working with country music, all but passing through it as much as he in any way embodies it.
Every song a highlight, from moody interludes (Dome Community People Are Good People) through to the ever-so-slightly-euphoric slow-building anthems (Supermoon The Sounding Line) and the slow-burning blues of Southern Colorado Song and Jhonn Balance.
I remember when – half a dozen albums or so into his career, many cassette-only and all DIY-ish – people started picking up on Conor Oberst’s work as Bright Eyes. And right when the peak seemed to come it disappeared. He ran out of steam.
Discovering Blood Oaths of the New Blues was a bit like hearing Fevers and Mirrors and Letting Off The Happiness – but it’s so far ahead of even Lifted or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground. It feels like the very best album Toth could have made but it also feels like more than that. A new peak, absolutely. But you feel, with its perfect pacing, it’s smart selection, just 40 minutes long, only eight songs, that there’s more songwriting gold in them there musical hills. You are in safe hands here because you know only safe hands could write and shape and choose these tunes.
He’s a Willy Vlautin, a James Blackshaw, a Devendra Banhart – possibly all rolled into one. Whatever he is and however he’s done it, Toth’s Blood Oaths is a smart wee nonchalant masterpiece; it’ll shrug off the end of year honours and keep finding new listeners for years to come.