I’ve often fantasized about sitting in a smoke filled room surrounded by people who have not only seen things, but truly experienced them. They are gifted with a kind of wisdom that grandchildren believe only their own grandparents possess — the kind reserved only for those equipped to handle it. These are the people that our younger society will always look up to, regardless of what they have, or have not, actually accomplished. It’s within these stories that we look to find what is truly ahead of us as we travel down the road towards adulthood, and this foreboding explanation is the sound that James Toth’s Wooden Wand has laid out before us on Blood Oaths of the New Blues.
From the first note we can tell that this isn’t going to be a straightforward lesson to learn. The bluesy guitars plod forward, mostly backed by nothing more than a small amount of reverb and occasional percussion, pushing us uneasily towards a destination that we’re not really sure we’d like to arrive at. Yet the story has begun, and we will see it out to the end. Toth’s vocals are full of this oddly intangible feeling of knowledge, giving his words a gravitas that make him more than just a folk singer, but rather a person who has just been around.
Occasionally, some of the songs sound overly similar, presenting a tapestry akin to another tale, yet they never weigh on the listener as more than a familiar comfort. A lofty, ambiguous atmosphere also hangs over the entirety of the proceedings — It keeps us honest, at arm’s length, unable to relate to his exact words and experiences beyond simple empathy for his journey.
And yet somehow through it all, Blood Oaths of the New Blues still remains an intensely personal album. While modern contemporaries within the folk genre spin stories of love and loss with vivid imagery and emotion, Wooden Wand keeps everything at a distance. The songs are used as a medium, much like a fireside story, to explain a life lesson, and it’s only those who listen carefully who will glean the precious guidance that is being provided. Only then, once you have taken these tidbits of wisdom, can you live life as the grizzled old storytellers see it best lived, summed up beautifully in the final song of the album, ‘No Debts’, – ‘no debts, no lies, no postponement of dreams, only smooth sailing now’.