Duke Garwood / Wooden Wand – split LP

Duke Garwood / Wooden Wand - split LP

Whilst split-singles have been an on/off quick-fix staple for independent labels over the years – to showcase artists in tandem or to celebrate musical kinship – split-albums are a less frequent proposition.  This is perhaps due to the dominance of CDs across the last two decades, given that a vinyl LP side apiece lends itself better to a split-album release, particularly if one artist doesn’t actually appeal, so that one side can remain untroublingly unplayed if required.  Now that vinyl is enjoying some form of renaissance, for connoisseurs at least, the split-LP might gain a new vigour, particularly for acts with a more experimentalist ethos, likeminded labelmates and material overflowing from regular album sessions.  This release – due for inaugural appearance on Record Store Day – arguably ticks such boxes for the shared-album format.

It’s highly likely that James Jackson Toth’s Wooden Wand will have the biggest fan-base to be drawn magnetically to this release.  Certainly no stranger to shifting his muse across multiple concepts, line-ups and aesthetics, JJT knows how to drop nuggets into obscure locations for his increasingly loyal and militant followers to strain themselves into keeping up with, regardless of the bank-breaking record collecting consequences.  Reassuringly though, Wooden Wand admirers who manage to put needle to groove on this offering will be rewarded for the trauma of the chase.  Across five ruggedly recorded tracks, JJT extends upon on the Crazy Horse-indebted reach of his recent Briarwood long-player (soon be reissued with a bonus disc of demos) as well as unearthing more of his loveable acoustic persona.  In the former camp, the expansive soaring six-minute “Navy Blue” goes the furthest distance through plangent grungy guitars and elevating gospel-slanted backing vocals, whilst the shorter “Sediment Traps” adds a sludgier country-rock dimension.  The triumvirate of unplugged curios – the rueful “Bruised Fruit,” the twangy slide-driven “Darkness & Doubt” and the charmingly infectious lo-fi “Wooley Blue” – are even better representations of what can make Wooden Wand such an enduring outfit.

The five contributions from Duke Garwood on the flipside are markedly tougher propositions in comparison. However, there is some of the same endearing maverick spirit of Wooden Wand at play, along with the polymath-like explorations favoured by the super-prolific Richard Youngs and ex-Gastr Del Sol chameleon David Grubbs.  The more accessible pieces gathered here – the wistfully murmured folk-blues of “Some Kind Of Move” and the murky yet swooning “Fortune Grace The Days” – indubitably indicate that Garwood is an electro-acoustic artisan with a knack for nuanced songwriting in immersive soundscapes.  With the more extreme ends of the three remaining cuts, Garwood ploughs himself into darker and more oblique furrows.  For the creepy “The Sand The Return” this means funereal rhythms and mumbled Mark Lanegan-shaded vocals; for the rippling looping “Sweet Mary Come Down” it leads to the ghost of John Fahey being summoned within a séance-like trance; and for “King Kiif The Gatekeeper” it transpires into acid-folk trippiness.

Whilst overall Wooden Wand’s stronger half of this pressed plastic equation will encourage more buyers and greater spins, the Duke Garwood half provides an intriguing portal into more circuitous routes around the lone troubadour world that can be explored at a more leisurely and meditative pace.  Together, both have further fuelled the encouraging possibilities within the grasp of those willing to go – literally – halves on an album.

Fire Records