All things told, there are few bands that have paced Raven Sings the Blues as consistently as Wooden Wand. The Vanishing Voice records, along with concurrent works coming out of The Jewlled Antler Collective served as some of the first releases that sparked the idea for the site way back when Blogspot seemed like a viable vehicle to get thoughts out into the world. Those vectors would converge as the site took shape, with James and Glenn coming together in The Sky High Band. The following year saw the release of James and the Quiet, an appliqué not a far removed from the Phoenix-risen moniker James & The Giants. That record, in particular, marked a departure from the bulk of the psychedelic folk that preceded it, and set the stage for a strain that would rise again and again in works like Waiting in Vain and Briarwood. With Toth’s latest molting he’s able to both wriggle free of expectations and to tether to this vast catalog of leathered American ache.
The new record finds Toth primarily on his own, though the guiding hand of longtime producer and friend Jarvis Taveniere is present in these works. In fact, Toth left the task of choosing songs to Jarvis, picking among his vast collection of both released and unreleased works. The album culls from the quiet corners of James’ oeuvre — songs that have surfaced on compilations and in seldom seen skins like Carlos The Second, the more lonesome WAND recordings, and a lost Staten Island-centric concept album. The songs are recast, re-recorded, and imbued with a shaggy, but sure Americana. There’s a light creasing of age to the works, but the changes feel wizened and road-worn, more than wistful. The eponymous new album is a work that explores the past, but doesn’t necessarily pine for it. Melancholy doesn’t always mean moving backwards, and here the act of revisiting old haunts seeks to reshape them in the skin of sagacity, rather than recapture the naiveté of youth.
The record finds James exploring the time between that youth and our own perilous perch in 2023. It explores relationships, boundaries, rifts, and returns. It runs its fingers over the threads that pull tight and those that unravel without us ever noticing. Sometimes walls are built purposefully brick by brick — a craftsman’s hand on the trowel — but more often than not our discarded ideals and ideas, physical distance, and forgotten friction build them between relationships with an unseen architecture. James weaves between these structures, poking holes between the walls and ferreting out the disjointed DNA that designs the kind of person we become after enough pages fall from the calendar.
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