James Jackson Toth
Waiting In Vain
Release date: July 29, 2008
Rating: 4 out of 5
Sounds like: A modern combinationof dusty '70s rock, upbeat folk, clever songwriting, and crisp production. A little My Morning Jacket, a little Rolling Stones.
Tennessee native and underground freak-folk cult figure James Jackson Toth makes his solo debut with a countrified yet complex take on early ‘70s light rock. Not the most original concept, but Waiting In Vain certainly creeps into your conscience after a few listens. “Doreen” is wrapped in swaths of sultry guitars and layers of intoxicating lyrics (“It’s nothing a pill or two won’t cure/But I’m the blood on your sawdust floor”), while “Look In On Me” crawls along with a pleading late ‘60s Stones swagger. Echoes of mid-career Bob Dylan show up on “The Banquet Styx” and the excellent “Beulah The Good,” the latter boasting a sparse, upbeat rock riff, inspired female backing vocals from Toth's wife Jexie Lee, and a sprawling lyrical ode (referencing Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Faust) deserving of a spot in the Great American Songbook. Other highlights include the hushed acoustic simplicity and mysterious feel of “Do What You Can,” along with the bluesy stutter of “My Paint,” but album closer “The Dome” sprawls so far across its seven minutes that it ultimately weakens the album as a cohesive whole. Spot-on guest instrumentation from Nels Cline (Wilco), John Dietrich (Deerhoof), and Otto Hauser (Devendra Banhart) easily makes up for that miscue, as does production and keyboard work from Steve Fisk (Nirvana, Soul Coughing, Soundgarden). An astonishingly solid debut from this more or less “underground” figure; like My Morning Jacket’s exercises in alt-country/psych-rock/freak-folk hybrids, James Jackson Toth has crafted an alluring, infectious, atmospheric rock album that defies boundaries while reworking obvious influences. Might not happen today, but Waiting In Vain stakes a valid claim to its own unique spot on the musical shelf.