Considering James Toth’s vastly complete knowledge of everything from early 20th century field recordings to shit that hasn‘t even been released yet, the barbarous, lo-fi musings in archetypal songform on his WAND release, Born Bad, create a distinguishing image of Toth as a fellow that lives and breathes in song, or the arrangements and lifestyles thereof. Marrying this knowledge of songform with the resonating truisms of personal experience, the songs on these two albums, bereft of much instrumentation save a simple guitar and drums, take the listener on a woebegone drunken romp through the muck and austere realities of Small Town, Tennessee, guided by a fantastic songwriter and the whims of his demons.
This is the world of embraced drug addiction, redneck bars where no one sleeps, and the grim finality of the prison cell. The intentional irony at play behind the colloquial lyrics, however, gives an indication of just what Toth is up to here. As a student of the hard-living songwriter’s approach, Toth proves on Born Bad that he’s done his homework and passed with honors. After some weird synth noise carries a fill on the title song, Born Bad, Toth confesses that he “started hiding the medicine“ and “didn‘t even send the maid,“ but it goes all for naught, as the characters in the song are found to be, of course, “born bad.” “Creature of Habit” is a standout track as well, working as a dark ballad that catalogs such rural anachronisms as “the baby-changing table” in “the restroom at the B.P,” and going to and being released from jail.
Circumstance and critical response aside, to me these songs, while existing as their own entities, evaluate and chronicle the taxing emotional ordeals undergone by nine-to-fivers, southern bar-room codgers, humanity in the face of irreparable poverty, and the songwriter himself. And to the listeners for whom Toth’s recordings represent a departure of sorts from the earlier Wooden Wand material: Toth has assembled a band called the Jescos in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and is planning the release of a fully realized, southern-rock infused LP.