In recent years, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the music of Wooden Wand, the alter ego of James Jackson Toth. I first stumbled upon Wooden Wand’s music after much ground had already been covered — my first exposure was actually through Catherine Irwin’s version of “We Must Also Love the Thieves,” on her excellent Little Heater record in 2012. Intrigued by the lyrics, I followed the thread back and discovered an extensive collection of material already available. Delving into the Wooden Wand discography can be somewhat overwhelming, due to its varied and extensive nature, consisting of multiple collaborations, compilations, singles, on a variety of labels.
When describing Wooden Wand to someone unfamiliar, I often pause before starting with the well-trodden term “singer songwriter,” which is inadequate and inaccurate, especially as there is so much more to the body of work. It’s a cliche, but Wooden Wand really doesn’t fit into any particular genre, with releases stretching from the countryish to the psychedelic. The voluminous and restless nature of Wooden Wand is reminiscent of the late Vic Chesnutt or of Howe Gelb — other artists, who appear to have an endless stream of new ideas and words, seemingly defiant of the music industry in their peripatetic and irrepressible need to create new work. Like these artists too (or like Nick Cave or David Berman, whose recent death still comes as a shock), Toth has an ability to write a line that sticks with you for days as you unravel it in your mind, such as starting a song,“They suspended mail delivery on account of all the roving dogs, twice a week I go in to collect my bills”