Posts Tagged ‘James Jackson Toth’

One Eleven Heavy – “Hot Potato Soup (live at Jam Castle)”

There have been a rash of insanely good live recordings getting the official treatment lately (see also: Chris Forsyth, Garcia Peoples, Howling Rain, Walker/Gunn/Jewell), making it a bit of a renaissance for the ‘official’ bootleg. The latest to join the fray are RSTB faves One Eleven Heavy, who stunned over the past two years with back to back heavy hitters. Their ensuing US tour from last year was one not to be missed and anyone who was in the room could attest to the band’s ability to spin a jam out into cosmic heights on the stage. If you missed it, now you don’t have to imagine, or even take to the Archive(.org) for proof as the band’s set from Plymouth, WI house party hotspot Jam Castle.

The band wasn’t sure about what to expect from the invite-only private spot, but were pleasantly surprised at the “high-end, above-garage, home studio set-up with Rhodes piano and soundboard recording facilities, truck parked in the driveway giving away free hog roast, and a crowd of mellow suburban Wisconsinites” in attendance. Thankfully the spot also came equipped with recording capabilities and the set was laid down to tape. The band’s gnarled stretcher “Hot Potato Soup” gets some room to take root here, sprawling out to about nineteen minutes of cosmic interplay. It’s a definite highlight of the set, as it has been at most shows recently. The album is headed out May 1st on Phoenix label Was Ist Das? and its one you should grab and alternate in the ol’ Walkman with that Garcia Peeps tape that just landed.

Lucky you, the band’s also headed back out on the road for another short US stint, this time favoring the West Coast. Let this be an inspiration to get out and catch the show. Dates below and you can see video of the Jam Castle set here as well. If anyone in SF misses that date at The Chapel with Howlin’ Rain, I’ll by a plane ticket to come slap some sense into you myself.

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Wooden Wand – The Thump Sessions

Well I suppose the sad news first. James Toth is putting up the possibility that these may be the final Wooden Wand recordings. I suppose everything comes to an end and over fifteen years we’ve all gotten a good fill of great music from Toth’s alter ego. Though its hard to think of a guiding light of the site going dim. This year’s hard enough. The good news is that these final recordings were made with Jarvis Taveniere at Thump Studios and feature a backing band that included Jeremy Earl, Kyle Forester, and John Andrews of Woods, and singer Katie Von Schleicher. So, in a way this is Woods(en) Wand and that’s, quite honestly something I fully support.

The four songs on offer are sweeping and lush, probably on par with James’ work during the Ecstatic Peace to Ryko transition – tender melodies that streak the windows in just the right ways. There’s a reworking of his song “Don’t Let Love Make A Liar Out of You,” that first appeared on the one-off Carlos The Second, a song he recorded with Langhorne Slim originally. Here he’s alone here, but no less bittersweet. The set is essential for any longtime fans of WW and up now on his Bandcamp. Stop by and say a heartfelt goodbye to an old friend.



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One Eleven Heavy – “Mardi Gras”

Following up on Nick Mitchell Maiato’s Gems contribution from earlier in the week, the first single from One Eleven Heavy’s sophomore LP, Desire Path, arrives and it leaves a jagged rut on the lawn as it pulls away on rented wheels. “Mardi Gras” is steeped in the ‘70s lawless looseness that rock cribbed from its country kin just about the time Parsons caught the train outta here. The song knocks some well needed honkey-tonk into the tepid tea of 2019, feeding on the grass n’ gas vibes of Muscle Shoals bound Stones. It’s hinged on a Hans Chew piano pound that feels like he might tip over with every note, a third-degree rub of guitar that makes good on the band’s live reputation, and a soaring chorus that begs the listener to join in. Just a touch harder and hotter than they ran on the last album, the song’s still filled with their effortless ethos led by a Toth tale of a hapless gambler who can’t face his truth.

“‘Mardi Gras’ is part of a tradition of songs about delusional luckless losers,” elaborates the band’s James Toth. “I don’t believe for a second that this character’s ship will ever come in; his destiny is in many ways preordained. And yet he is sincere in his belief that his luck will turn around if only he could get that one lucky break. In some ways it’s an allegory but I prefer the literal take: this guy is almost certainly going to let you down.” “It is also one of several of my songs to wedge in an obscure reference to the television program The Honeymooners,” adds Toth. “Spot the others!”

The album lands September 20th on Beyond Beyond is Beyond and I’d wholeheartedly recommend tucking into it in its entirety.

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One Eleven Heavy – “Old Hope Chest”

Last week I mentioned the growing presence of a new crop of bands raised on soundboard rips and zine culture conversations regarding which night held the true elevation of a solo from rote to enlightened and this week I’m introducing the first taste of one of the best of what’s next. While over time the mere implication of a band leaning jam seemed to set higher-handed listeners hackles on full alert, now that niche is king and cultures upon sub-cultures have cropped up quicker than crabgrass in internet back-alleys there’s a growing demand for bands that process their love of Little Feat, NRBQ, Levon, Trux and the Dead without worrying about cultural cache. There’s a demand and 2018 is bursting to contain the response.

Let’s not go throwing around that itchy term ‘Supergroup’ here but, be fair, there’s an overabundance of talent coursing through the veins of One Eleven Heavy. Started as a gauntlet thrown by James Toth (Wooden Wand) to fellow traveller Nick Mitchell Maiato (Desmadrados Soldados De Ventura) “Old Hope Chest” was conceived to “rise above the mundane, descriptive, lifestyle narratives of contemporary singer-songwriting.” It was, they decided, “Something that connects to our shared rock tradition and celebrates our musical identity without the apology of irony.” The track swings on groove and taps into a collective consciousness of what was actually “classic” about rock, without being dictated by what was pressed, sold or spun through the static crackle of radio. This echoes the ’72-’74-era Grateful Dead as it was lived in the room, and not as it was felt from the runout.

Joining in this crack team of cosmic workmen is Hans Chew (Hiss Golden Messenger/Jack Rose/Endless Boogie), Ryan Jewell (Ryley Walker band/Psychedelic Horseshit), and Dan Brown (Royal Trux/’68 Comeback) and the LP opens up shop as the first release on Scott McDowell’s (WFMU/ 120 Minutes) new label Kith & Kin. So, yeah, like I said this one’s not treading lightly. Drop into “Old Hope Chest” below and get prepped and hydrated to receive Everything’s Better in September.



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Wooden Wand

Perhaps there has been no more steady hand guiding Raven Sings the Blues than the presence of James Toth’s Wooden Wand. Since the site began in 2006, there have been myriad releases from Toth and as I’ve changed, so has the music of Wooden Wand blossomed from noise experiments with The Vanishing Voice, to psych-folk’s crowning glory and on into a pure distillation of Americana that rings far from the hollow brand of weekend alt-country that so many Brooklyn pickers would adopt fecklessly over the years. No, Toth has always been independent music’s poet laureate, whether he’s got the onion skin to prove it or not, we all know its true.

On Clipper Ship, his first album in three years (a relative dearth in terms of Toth’s output), he crafts an album that puts the musical heft ahead of the lyrical focus. A groundswell of his fellow craftsmen have found their way to the studio for this dragging the net from Glenn Kotche (On Fillmore, Wilco) and Jim Becker (Califone, Iron & Wine) to Zak Riles (Watter, Grails) and sought after sidemen Luke Schneider (Margo Price, JEFF The Brotherhood, Natural Child) and Jim Elkington (Tweedy, Richard Thompson, Steve Gunn). The songs jut out from the piers of Fahey and Basho and then tumble into endless buzzing drones and blissful hums. Stripped of the words this would rival any Scissor Tail release for acoustic dominance.

Though that’s not to discount the lyrics on Clipper, they’re as literate and as personal as ever, lending the album Toth’s own brand of rural mesquite, a woodsiness that flecks each song with a mouthful of smoke. In his aim to construct an album that stands alone on it’s instrumentation, he’s succeeded and then some. Combined, however, the instrumental acumen and lyrical quality push this towards one of Toth’s finest releases. The lyrics suggest a haunted America; full of murder ballads and codeine comedowns for a generation adrift and reaching, grasping and grappling with truths that seem to grow less plausible every day. Toth has said that in the wake of 2016’s political heft, he may slow down output, not wanting to add to a glut of musical content out there. But if the spigot slows and each new release is of this caliber, then I’m on board for the wait.




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James Jackson Toth on Japan – Tin Drum

The latest installment of Hidden Gems comes from a longtime RSTB favorite. I think it’s fair to say that without Wooden Wand, Raven wouldn’t have shaped up the way it did in those early years. When I happened on a great set by James, billed to open for Jack Rose in a cramped bar in Greenpoint back in 2005, Harem of the Sundrum and the Witness Figg quickly became a fixture on the turntable and a desire to spread some of the WW gospel was born. Below Toth shares a record that’s made an impact in his own life and how it crept in and took hold.

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Wooden Wand – “Mexican Coke” + Carlos The Second

Good news today out of the Wooden Wand camp, there’s a new album on the way from Three-Lobed, Clipper Ship. The album arrives in May and is preceded by the gorgeous new single “Mexican Coke,” a sighed country ode to having to supplement income with side hustles. The album marks a shift away from Toth’s last few, stripping back to more of the sing-songwriter countenance that permeated his lone album for Rykodisc under his given name. The album boasts an impressive supporting cast of players ranging from Wilco’s Glenn Kotche to session stars like Darin Gray, Ryan Norris, Jim Becker, Luke Schneider, Zak Riles and Jim Elkington. All the players have contributed to accomplished visions of folk and country over the past few years and they bring that drive and finesse to Clipper Ship. Its been a touch since Toth had a Wooden Wand album out and it feels good to have one on the way for sure.


The announcement makes the news doubly good today because while we were all wrapped up in the tail end tail spin of 2017, James and a few friends slipped an album out under the name Carlos The Second. It features some nuanced instrumentals from Ryan Norris (who also appears on the new album) and sets Toth’s honeyed croon agaist some starker than usual settings, and even a smattering of beat driven tracks. Its new territory for sure, but fits well into a catalog that never shies away from collaboration. As an added bonus, Langhorne Slim swings by for a flat-out wonderful country rocker that has both singers at their best. Check out “Hall Of Mirrors” below:

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