As Wooden Wand and under his own name, singer/songwriter James Jackson Toth has recorded dozens of projects, ranging from wailing freak folk to crunching hard rock, and released a sprawling catalog of cassettes, CD-Rs, vinyl, and digital efforts. But for all his diversity, Toth had a consistent pattern of hopping into studios to knock albums out. For his upcoming album, a mellow groover called Farmer's Corner, he decided to take a different tack.
"I didn't really want to go into one studio, with one engineer, with one group of people, with a finite amount of time to work," Toth explains. Alongside musical contributors William Tyler, Darin Gray, Doc Feldman, and others, Toth put the album together piecemeal, ducking into studios in Lexington, Kentucky, Nashville, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri, to take on the songs as they came to him.
"Looking at some of my favorite records I started realizing a lot of them were done that way." Toth cites Neil Young's After the Gold Rush and Zuma as examples. "They're just sort of a hodgepodge. The album is all in the 'ear of the hearer.' This is an album because we hear it that way, not necessarily because of [recording in a kind of] boot camp situation. Which is fun -- I'll totally make a record that way again -- but I wanted to try it this way."
The relaxed approach worked. There's an easygoing charm to Farmer's Corner. Toth and co. forsook drums in the studios, making the record feel like a Grateful Dead or Little Feat living room session. But the album isn't the standard "stripped down Americana" fare. Melodic bass shades the woozy "Alpha Dawn," "Port of Call" dissolves into psychedelic noise, and "Adie" indulges Toth's heavy metal jones.
"I think it's pretty heavily textured [album]," Toth says. "It's a testament to the players that they were able to put themselves into that space without overplaying or underplaying."
In addition to reconfiguring his album-making process, Toth decided to switch up his normal touring regiment. In preparation for the May 5 release of Farmer's Corner, he's embarking on a house show tour with songwriter Simon Joyner. On Saturday, May 3, he'll perform in Phoenix, setting up in Michael Krassner's (Blues Oblique, Boxhead Ensemble) living room. The tour makes sense financially, and there's the added bonus of having an attentive crowd -- not always the case in a crowded club or bar. With more people paying attention, they might notice an element of Toth's songs that's easy to miss: his understated wit, the conversational element to his songs.
"One of the things that kind of comes up a lot [in my songs is the idea that] 'Yeah, everything kind of blows, but there's this other thing that's worth sticking around for," Toth laughs. "What about this, what about that joke you just heard? You wouldn't want to miss that."
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