Wand – [Album]

Sunday, 10 May 2009

As any musician can (and will) tell you, sometimes songs – good ones, bad ones, odd ones and ones that just don't fit anywhere – get written and then written off almost immediately. Sometimes it's simply a matter of the musician's own interest that finds them falling by the wayside; sure, it might be a good song, but it's not representative of where the musician or group in question wants to be heading creatively and so it gets buried under the hurried over-compensation to further develop that all-important “next step.”

There are also occasions when “that song” just doesn't feel right – as once-Wooden Wand singer James Jackson Toth explains in the liner notes of Hard Knox, “The lyrics here bug me in many cases – in some instances the words were used as syllabic placeholders, which is the price you pay for the immediacy and, some would argue, vitality of recording demos of songs the same day you write them.”

Cast aside, to paraphrase Toth's miniature liner note dissertation, these songs were never meant for release and the fact that fans can hear them on this album means that he was probably coerced into opening the vaults. Readers are given the impression that the songs collected on Hard Knox are useless; creative hiccups that probably caused the singer to miss another episode of Mythbusters because that usually tends to be when his pesky muse moves him.

One listen will cause any Wooden Wand fan to cry bullshit however, because there's no arguing the value and merit of the fourteen songs that comprise this album.

Recorded between October, 2002 and January, 2007, Hard Knox is exactly what fans would expect of a set of Wooden Wand demos but made all the more special because no fan could have reasonably expected to hear them; stripped down to the act's essence (guitar, vocals, the occasional back-up voice or bass part), both the songs and the singer have nowhere to hide as images of hellfire, brimstone, trial, tribulation and trepidation are all extolled in a haphazard swirl and left splattered on the spot for listeners to sort out and lap up. For any other singer of his generation (Dylan can pull it off – and has – but he's both a unique breed and an older hand), such a conglomeration would be a 'for complete-ists only' affair but, here, there are sparks of brilliance floating in the darkness. True, while songs like “All These Generous Men” (on which Toth's wife, Jexie Lynn, takes lead vocals) and the far-too-lugubrious “Dead Of Night” are throwaway flotsam, songs including “Dark Is Bleeding,” “Trails,” “Urchins” and “Saturday Delivery” all bear an off-the-cuff greatness that fuels the songs and helps get them over rather than detracting from them. True too, some of the vocals are indeed scratch lines (that's a nice way of characterizing “It might be too late to smile and turn when she smiles on you/It might be too late to paint the bottom of your boat blue” from “Lady Of Situations”) but, in this musical context, such tossed off lines end up feeling honest and candid somehow; even if they are just ballads of beautiful (and convenient) words, there's something disarming and sweet about them that will hold a willing listener enthralled.

The combination of very simple, guide instrumental tracks and tossed off/fantastic lyrical couplets are the most defining characteristics of Hard Knox but, unlike the similarly bent collections of aborted possibilities that Rivers Cuomo has leaked over the last couple of years, this album feels far less canny and calculated, but far more coherent. Somehow in its thrown-together design, Hard Knox ends up fleshing out an epiphany for fans that outlines some of James Jackson Toth's creative process and the album is absolutely of value for that; thanks to the singer for letting it come out.


Wand at Ecstatic Peace! Online
Wooden Wand myspace
James Jackson Toth myspace


Hard Knox will be released on Ecstatic Peace! Records on May 26, 2009. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

'Arriving' from Hard Knox by Wand

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