James Jackson Toth, aka Wooden Wand, is a renowned nomad, one whose insatiable wanderlust comes equipped with a delightful penchant for heroic fantasy. His songs carry not only the rustic tinge of alt-country melody and light-handed, twangy guitar-work, but also the frittered, mystical bewilderment of the Wild West. His latest, Farmer’s Corner, takes an emotional journey all its own, trudging across conflicting moods—from hopeful to morose, lavish to disparate, whimsical to harrowed. Yet, for better or worse, it always celebrates the thrill of what’s to come, capturing the frailty of a mind wrought with anticipation and bewilderment in the face of the unpredictable trials of a world away from home.
Heralded in by a brief screech of static and some mild feedback, Farmer’s Corner opens with “Alpha Dawn,” a pleasant sojourner’s song set to banjo plucks and Tosh delivering his most soothing croon. The track calls to mind sparse fields stretched over long drives and the thrill of venturing out into the quiet unknown. Yet, almost immediately following his journey’s onset, Toth reaches an “Uneasy Peace,” which is both the title of track two and an adequate summing up of the entirety of Farmer’s Corner’s vexed courage. Already, the travel has reached a tempestuous crossroads, and Toth’s pleasantries fade to dismal acceptance of hard times ahead. “This thing I’ve been sick with, well I’m still in the thick of it,” he sings over some ambling, melancholy accompaniment. While the thrill of the open road may bring Toth pleasure, his stories of wanderlust are often cautionary tales.
A noticeable highlight, smack in the album’s center at track 5 of 9, is a solemn piece called “Dambuilding.” Farmer’s Corner is no den of happy trails—rather, boiled down to a numbers game, the bedraggled, dismal minutes outnumber those of confidently pressing onward. Still, “Dambuilding” strikes as particularly dismal. Here we find our narrator singing of digging ditches and putting up walls. Hauntingly, Toth is completely alone in this process, giving no reference to outside influence on his manual labor, making for a harrowing illustration of the wedge such journeys can drive between the traveler and those they’ve left behind.
Though it’s not the album’s closer, “Home Horizon” is, in its way, a sort of swansong celebrating the journey’s end, at last looking ahead to the bountiful return home. Toth sings whimsically of the hardships of his trials thus far, showing no signs of grudge or disillusionment, rather just celebrating that he is now “home and horizon bound,” and soon to reach what is, in most journeys, the most important milestone of all, a peaceful return home.