100-album plus, genre-hopping singer-songwriter enigma James Jackson Toth, AKA Wooden Wand, has made a point about how much he wanted this alt-country gothic to ‘spook‘. Though that comes with a ‘wake and bake’ asterix, an old pastime of Toth’s in lineage with his 14-year-old self, discovering hallucinogens and music in one shot. But that’s not the kind of spun context this record needs. It does a fine job turning its own phrases, from the depths of suicide (“Supermoon; The Sounding Line“) to murder (“Dungeon of Irons“) and a handful of broken hearts (“Outsider Blues,” “Jhonn Balance“), Toth makes the injection of tension into verse seem Vic Chesnutt-easy. Or rather “outsider blues with nothing to lose,” as one of his road-trippin’ protagonists drawls. Before you know it, 30-minutes have rolled by, someone’s puked up a heart that looks like “honeycomb,” and everything’s clear blue skies:

No burdens
No loads
Nothing promised, nothing owed
Only smooth sailing now
Smooth sailing now

Of course to call it a day there would be just as much a shame as if you let that ‘spooky’ press release do the thinking for you. There’s much meat to chew off of these cryptic bones. Yes “Supermoon…” is a bittersweet slide-guitar wail about taking your own life, but it gets there with a Mark Twain metaphor and a bit about an old letter tucked inside a book that never gets read. While the murderous “Dungeon of Irons” is delivered in the same folksy ruse, but packs the rhetoric tight with hauntingly sweet pillow-talk vocal fills from Janet Simpson and a question that chases proverb status, if not a repeated listen:

Here we go, pals, round and round
When you die with a lie on your mouth does that lie make a sound?

Should you still feign stubborn impatience with the slow-build revelations Toth delivers like an acoustic cutter here, so be it. Skip to “Southern Colorado Song” and get some cymbal-wash haunts out of the In Cold Blood-esque distorted jam from the perspective of the summer of 2011’s Dougherty Gang filling ceilings “full of holes” on a “bank job somewhere in Bumfuck, Georgia” and things will start to make sense:

Life goes by so fast
But its minutes drag on slow
Sometimes nowhere seems the only place to go