When James Jackson Toth, aka Wooden Wand, told his band his plans for his new album, they all looked at him like he was crazy. Likewise, when Toth announced these peculiar ambitions to Ecstatic Peace label head Thurston Moore and label manager Andrew Kesin, they gave Toth a similar look - an unmistakable mix of disbelief, skepticism and fear.
"I want it to be an un-weird record," was Toth's plan. The road-weary Toth been spending a lot of time with old Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings records, and wanted to transcend the 'psychedelic' connotations he's been pegged with since his days fronting Wooden Wand & The Vanishing Voice. He wanted to do what Elvis Costello did on Imperial Bedroom or Leonard Cohen did on I'm Your Man - he wanted to not give the people what they wanted, necessarily, but instead endeavor to follow his muse and create something altogether different.
Sure, everyone was baffled by this proclamation. How could Toth - who is to a wah-wah pedal what George Bush is to bad foreign policy - tone it down enough to make a record without any of the experimental leanings and idiosyncratic eccentricities of his previous work?
Well, he didn't, exactly, but he tried damn hard. It's just that when you get someone as brilliant as Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo to produce and co-arrange a record, it gets very hard to pass up the opportunity to see a song through to its logical end and explore every possibility. With the help of Jarvis Taveniere (Vanishing Voice, Meneguar), DM Seidel (Vanishing Voice), Jeremy Earl (Woods, Meneguar), Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), and Ranaldo himself (who sings and plays guitar and piano on the album) Toth's folk songs quickly became densely layered and meticulously arranged, and, soon enough, an album began to take shape. Various versions of songs were recorded and pored over, discussions grew passionate, feelings were hurt. We think you will agree the ends justify any meanness that anyone might have endured.
Co-arranger and vocalist Jessica Toth may be the record's secret weapon. While perhaps best known for her role as lead vocalist and occasional guitarist in Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice, on James & The Quiet she emerges as the perfect foil to Toth's inimitable artistic voice. Together with Ranaldo, Jessica wrote and fine-tuned most of the album's exquisite harmony vocals and piano lines while Toth himself sat in the studio lounge drinking beer and reading old issues of Tape Op.
Longtime fans will note that James & the Quiet is markedly darker that Toth's last album Second Attention, and features many songs that have become live staples in the Wooden Wand oeuvre over the past year. It is also significant in that it will likely be the last album under the Wooden Wand moniker (future releases will be released under Toth's Christian name) and as such, simultaneously closes one chapter and introduces another.
Hoping to transcend genre tags, Toth, with more than a little help from his friends, has crafted a consistent and creative batch of songs that rewards repeat listens and continues to showcase Toth's talent as a songwriter's songwriter.