Wooden Wand – James & the Quiet

Wooden Wand
James & the Quiet

Upon reading up on James Toth’s latest release, James & the Quiet, I found out that his goal for his last release under the Wooden Wand moniker was to make a record that is “un-weird.” I suppose this was a valiant idea, but Toth has been known for mixing psychedelica with his folk up to this point, and usually when an artist goes outside his comfort zone, it ends in disaster.

Fortunately, Sonic Youth member and all around awesome musician Lee Ranaldo came in and focused Toth, producing the record as well as contributing guitar and piano. Steve Shelley mans the kit and a familiar group of Toth comrades fill out the rest of the cast. The result is possibly Toth’s darkest and most affecting record to date.
James & the Quiet didn’t quite achieve the level of “un-weirdness” that Toth was most likely looking for, but it’s definitely more straightforward than his back catalog. It begins with “The Pushers,” which is the most immediately accessible song on the album. It’s a serious folk stomper with soulful harmonies, a simple electric lead, and a cacophonous guitar solo. While it’s not exactly the most straightforward song you’ll ever hear, it’s miles from the sound of Second Attention in terms of normalcy.

“In A Bucket” gets a little stranger and begins to let the darkness of the record collect over the listener. Lines like “we were dizzy honey bees in a bucket of tar” and “sometimes getting dressed is the most important meal of the day” provide some strange imagery while an electric, Johnny Cash-style lead howls in the distance.

The most impressive songs are the ones that keep Toth center stage, which is a credit to Ranaldo’s production and keen ear for detail. The eerie haze reverberating through the album really hammers home just how talented Toth is as an all around artist. “Delia” is a trip into the life of a woman who represents evil and death. “Blood,” by far the creepiest track of the album, is a cryptic picture of the world sucking your life away as you grow from an infant into adulthood.

All in all, James & the Quiet is a fantastic journey through the dark, fucked up psyche of a great songwriter, while possibly being the best record Wooden Wand has ever produced. Toth creates a rewarding listen for anyone willing to lower their guard and embrace his new direction. Listen to this one while driving through the woods at night.