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Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice - Buck Dharma

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Artist: Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice

Album: Buck Dharma

Label: 5 Rue Christine

Review date: Dec. 11, 2005

In a recent interview, James Toth of Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice punctured received wisdom about his group’s collective status: “The Kinks weren’t a collective and neither are we… we consider ourselves a rock band.” Amen to that. Wooden Wand’s earlier incarnations may have looked like the classic travelling-circus model but their work belies a fierce concentration that totally transcends the abilities of most stoned geeks floating in front of a set of instruments with which they have little-to-no facility.

Buck Dharma is the group’s strongest set; not coincidentally, it feels like their most focused and song-based. As Toth’s solo album as Wooden Wand displayed, he has quite a talent for downcast blues songforms, and Buck Dharma’s greatest achievement is its rapprochement of the song and the ‘jam.’ Indeed, the group manages to inhabit a weird, amorphous space between the two areas, with the songs consisting of orbiting, circular phrases that flicker in-and-out of focus like a zoom lens capturing night-lights. Songs like “Hideous Whiskey and His Woman” or “Spear of Destiny” actually feel a little like unraveled, saturated versions of Neil Hagerty’s primal R&B vamps in The Howling Hex. However, Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice trade in Hagerty’s compulsive tics for an indolent, green-hazed blur of nebulous texture and woozy melodies, most explicit on the rambling “Satya Sai Scupetty Plays ‘Reverse Jam Band’” or the vinyl-only dense mush of percussion clatter “Snakes Blues/Rational Blues.” When the group aims for mystic song, as on “Risen from the Ashes,” they sound like some great-lost psychedelic rock gang you never heard, a private-press mystery surfaced.

Buck Dharma is a monolith, a great expanse of slow-breathing phenomenon that is admirably wide-ranging. It should also hopefully scupper the group’s unfortunate pigeonholing in the ‘free/weird folk’ genre. Because if anything this is a blues record, the blues as striated and messy and fucked-up as it always should have been - the glorious agrarian blues. From the crypto-religious psychobabble strewn through the album’s lyrics to the chants’n’hollers that are coated in thick, gooey sheaths of resin and floated out on grey-green blasts of smoke, Buck Dharma is the ticket.

By Jon Dale

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