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Album Review

Harem of the Sundrum and the Witness Fig is a solo album from neo-folkie Wooden Wand (James Toth) which forgoes the experimentalism and free range sonic weirdness of his collaborations with ensemble the Vanishing Voice. It's nice to get to the core of his songs here, which fall somewhere between Woody Guthrie and Leonard Cohen. The bare-bones approach creates a simple ambience that makes his creations seem more like interpretations of folk standards rather than the originals they are. Subtle treatments such as the phased vocal on "Leave Your Perch...," calling to mind a stripped-down Spacemen 3, lend atmosphere, but most pieces are just his voice and guitar with the occasional light accompaniment of second guitar or harmony vocals, apparently from his usual cast of cohorts. Other modern touches embellish the recordings and keep them firmly in the 21st century warehouse freak-folk scene from which they derive. "Vengeance" could be Robert Pollard channeling Bob Dylan (channeling Pete Seeger). The wah-wah guitar on "Sundrum Ladies" and "(Ask A) Sufist Chef" drops a hit of mescaline into what was once a run-of-the-mill campfire song. Only the odd drone that begins "Warn Winch Pts 2-3" hints at what Wooden Wand does with his expanded group. But lovers of the psychedelic avant-mayhem of the Vanishing Voice (or Akron/Family or Animal Collective) will find less to expand their minds here, and fans of modern folk (Devendra Banhart or Will Oldham) will appreciate the traditionalism and straightforwardness of this material, which is captivating in its simplicity.


Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Wooden Wand is the alter ego of singer and multi-instrumentalist James Jackson Toth, who alters the band name from one project to the next. Most often working in collaboration with the free improv experimentalists the Vanishing Voice, Wooden Wand mixes folk, jazz, psychedelic, and noise rock influences into a singular blend that exemplifies the scene alternately dubbed alt-folk, freak folk, or the New Weird America. Along with a surfeit of obscure and often self-released...
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