Wooden Wand: Death Seat

RIYL: Acoustic Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Tom Waits

Wooden Wand’s latest, Death Seat, is a collection of acoustic dirges that recall long nights sitting around drinking, maybe on the front porch with the fireflies flickering up the night, or maybe in a dank bar somewhere in the sticks, where the beer is a little flat and the whiskey has a cheap bite.

Singer, songwriter James Jackson Toth, aka Wooden Wand, has a voice reminiscent of a young Mick Jagger. It has that darkness and snarl we all fell in love with the first time we heard the Stones. The songs Toth has written for Death Seat are soaked in folk and the blues, giving the album the feeling of something recorded 40 years ago, not 2010.

The highlight of the album is “Bobby,” a pained ballad that reflects on a friend who’s left this world too soon. It’s a haunting song that will stir up remorse for anyone who has lost a friend this way.  Songs like “I Made You” and “Servant to Blues” are spooky numbers, while “I Wanna Make a Difference” is a soulful confession between the protagonist and a lover or a family member.

If you’re a fan of Springsteen’s Nebraska or Johnny Cash’s American recordings, sparse albums full of dark storytelling, Death Seat falls in that same territory. It’s not the kind of album you throw on in the middle of a house party. However, once the guests have left and everyone is winding down, Death Seat has the kind of late night coolness that feels just right. (Young God 2010)

Wooden Wand MySpace page


Stone River Boys: Love on the Dial

RIYL: The Vaughan Brothers, Southern Culture on the Skids, Hacienda Brothers, Los Lobos

Guitarist Dave Gonzalez (Hacienda Brothers) and singer Mike Barfield, the core of Austin’s Stone River Boys, came together in 2008 when Gonzalez recruited musicians for a benefit tour to help raise money for his ailing Hacienda Brothers bandmate, singer Chris Gaffney. Gaffney was battling cancer and Gonzalez recruited musicians from Austin’s fertile talent pool, including Barfield, nicknamed “the Tyrant of Texas Funk.” Sadly, Gaffney succumbed to the disease, but the tour continued with proceeds being sent to Gaffney’s widow. Along the way, Gonzalez and Barfield began writing songs and eventually started laying down tracks while on the road. The good karma from the Stone River Boys’ noble gesture is evident as their debut album, Love on the Dial, is one of the most lively collections of music you’ll hear this season. Perfect for barbecues and games of cornhole; or just hanging out with your baby trying to stay cool (or heat things up) on a hot summer night.

A cover of Stephen Bruton’s “Bluebonnet Blues” propels the album forward like a sturdy old Ford and sets the tone of an album that crosses traditional country music with Texas blues and ’60s soul music for a hybrid  the Boys like to call country funk. The sound is best exemplified in “Can I Change It,” which blends a Steve Cropper guitar lick with a steel guitar playing like a horn section, and “The Struggle,” which brings to mind the Fabulous Thunderbirds in their ’80s heyday.

Elsewhere, the band adopts more traditional country sounds, such as “Lovers Prison” and the lovely “40 Acres,” a heartfelt lament of times gone by. The highlight of the record may be their cover of the Gerry Goffin/Carole King classic, “Take a Giant Step.” Fusing country, soul and a surf guitar twang, they create a magical, dreamlike song, something you’d expect to hear from Chris Isaak or Los Lobos.

The combination of Barfield’s voice and Gonzalez’s guitar playing have created  unique group. Barfield sings with bravado and a sincerity that seems lacking in so much of the slick country music that gets radio airplay. Meanwhile, Gonzalez’s guitar slinging is sharp and economical. When he needs to, he can put on a display of fast fingerwork, but he is such a fine musician that he knows when the song calls for fireworks and when it requires something more subdued. (Cow Island 2010)

Stone River Boys MySpace Page
Click to buy Love on the Dial at Amazon


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