Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
This is the first Wooden Wand album since 2014. Wooden Wand is one of many projects by the prolific singer/songwriter and philosopher, James Jackson Toth. It’s hard to predict which genre Toth will adopt when he is in the concept phase of an album. One thing is certain, whatever direction he goes in, the album will be high quality and executed with the perfection of someone where “almost” isn’t in their vocabulary. Toth is one of the most prolific songwriters and composers I know. I don’t know when he has time to do anything except for write, record, and perform. He must never sleep.
Whatever the formula was, it is ever changing. That is why Toth is one of the greatest songwriters and musical composers of this generation. If you have never heard of him or Wooden Wand, do your homework. It is well worth the investment of time and money. Clipper Ship is sort of an acoustic based album that seems to pay homage to some of the great performers of the 70s and 80s such as Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Neil Young, and Fleetwood Mac. Although those influences appear, Clipper Ship is not derivative at all. There is drawing from the well, but Toth is the real signature on this collection of songs.
There is a song on here that also pays homage to Mexican Coke called Mexican Coke (Track 3). This is about the soft drink, not the white powder. A very clever writing comparing Mexican Coke to anything that is “hyped” and may fall short of the fanfare. That is what I take away from this acoustic, thought provoking number.
If you seem to be drawn to songs that pay tribute to someone or something, you will fancy Mood Indica (Track 7). This atmospheric masterpiece is sans vocals, but it is powerful without any words at all. It almost sounds like parts of the music from the movie Slingblade. This is definitely movie soundtrack material, something that walks the tight rope between happy and sad and between desperate and hopeful.
School’s Out (Track 1) is a psychedelic-leaning song that starts out a bit like David Bowie’s Space Oddity. My interpretation is that there are two driving themes in this song. One is the frailty and rapid pace at which times moves. As we get older, time seems to move faster and time between events that used to take forever are now upon us at the blink of an eye. The other theme here, and it may be a reach, is that school is out because of all the great performers that have been lost lately. David Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen, just to name a few. Maybe school is out because some of the great teachers are no longer with us.
However you interpret a Wooden Wand song is your own business. The point is that these songs are so well written that it lends itself for interpretation and analysis. James’ song writing only tells part of the story. Toth only gives you glimpses of what his intentions are and allows the listener to draw their own conclusion. Put your thinking cap on when you buy and listen to this gem.