James Jackson Toth
James Jackson Toth
He’s a huge Beatles guy. He came with the perfect arsenal of rock-history knowledge, but he knows we’re into twisted psychedelic stuff, so he was the perfect producer.” On this lone solo release, Toth conjured a mysterious, alluring world peopled by characters that could have been pulled from the pages of a Faulkner novel or from one of photographer William Eggleston’s stark portraits of Memphis barflies. Toth’s scenarios are intriguingly tawdry, his sounds tantalizing, with layered, almost-dreamlike harmonies; touches of blues, country and soul; the occasional flash of punk swagger; and even some sweet Fleetwood Mac-inspired pop. Toth assumes the role of storyteller, maybe even confessor, spinning inter-linked tales of hope and misfortune, romantic trials and spiritual yearning.
Toth has impressive, vinyl-era ambition; he’s fashioned a disc that works as a cohesive whole, sequenced with such old-school care it could practically be called a concept album. Toth has admitted there’s a theme to Waiting In Vain, though it’s more insinuated than announced: “Waiting In Vain is kind of about temptation and redemption, and the varying ways you can view these things.” On “Look In On Me,” an almost uplifting, gospel-tinged arrangement contrasts with the words of a dissolute character savoring his every vice: “Cocaine and bourbon/pinball and pool.” Toth renders each line as if he were channeling the decadent, blues-besotted Jagger of the early-seventies Stones. On “Poison Oak,” a woozy ballad, he flips the script; the narrator, drunk with conviction, harshly appraises someone else’s indiscretions – a lover, a sister, a friend? -- before offering half-hearted comfort. The hushed duet between Toth and ex-wife Jessica Bowen (aka Jex Thoth) that follows, “Midnight Watchman,” has a gentler country-rock feel and hints at a kind of self-willed deliverance from unnamed troubles. “The Park,” says Toth, is the metaphorical “settling for all kinds of nebulous misdeeds,” filled with errant dreamers “waiting in vain for easy living to start.” Though Toth enjoys acknowledging his influences, managing to mention artists as disparate as Tanya Tucker, Robyn Hitchcock and the Violent Femmes in the course of a conversation, his work sustains a seductive mood all its own.
The character of Faust pops up more than once, a reference to the guy who made a pact with the devil long before Robert Johnson reached those infamous crossroads. (“Becoming Faust” was an early contender for album title.) Waiting In Vain is the first album that Toth, long a cult figure, has chosen to release as a solo artist, and it marks a new beginning for him. For several years, he experimented with a folk-psychedelic rock hybrid, putting out numerous discs in many different formats under many different names and pseudonyms, including variations of the name Wooden Wand. Toth is known for his DIY aesthetic, including many limited edition CDR and vinyl releases. Read more on Last.fm.
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