Three Lobed Recordings – May 5, 2017
I almost wasn’t going to write about this album – in trying to stick to a blog about Kentucky music, I wondered if it were right to write about Wooden Wand after James Toth had moved to Virginia. However, upon receiving my preorder of the CD in the mail and hearing how good it is, I felt it appropriate. Aside from being a stunningly rich and beautiful album, its roots still stretch throughout Kentucky – a combined four tracks were recorded in Shelbyville and Lexington, and many feature the talents of a handful of Kentucky musicians. Despite being made from these many collaborations and stitched together from a few recording sessions, Clipper Ship is cohesive, intimate, and retains a feeling of Toth’s singular vision.
“School’s Out” is the record’s second single and opens the album with shimmery acoustic guitar and Toth’s reverberating vocals. The first two verses are divided by interjections from a glowing pedal steel and satisfyingly rich bass; on the second verse, Toth asks a deceptively enticing volcano to spare his only daughter, that “she was not made to be a martyr.” These conjured images of human sacrifice are hinted to again on “Sacrificial,” a song orchestrated simply by finger-picked acoustic guitar and voice – the richness of the previous song’s thick instrumentation is replaced by the intimacy and fidelity in this one’s recording. “Mexican Coke” features droning strings from James Elkington and Jim Becker, as well as the rustling percussion of Glenn Kotche. The track expresses appreciation for antiquity, and contains the album’s most immediately understood lyrics on the fleeting nature of time and one’s best intentions going awry.
“Mallow T’ward the River” and “One Can Only Love” stand tall as lengthy centerpieces to the album. The former is a ballad about an Uncle Perry – a man who “cheated many women and murdered men for gold.” When our narrator asks the uncle if he has any fears about what might come of his misdeeds, the track’s texture blossoms as Perry responds confidently “nephew, you are such a foolish one / I’ll be here tomorrow, same as river, same as sun.” Eventually, age, his enemies, and nature itself catch up to Perry – “they beat uncle like a beast / the river changed direction and the sun set in the east” – Toth personifies our world beautifully, imbuing it with supernatural power. “One Can Only Love” is the most sonically striking track of the album, and its three droning sections push forward past the eight-minute mark. Throughout the breathtaking first section, the musicians assembled feel entirely unified as if they were a single instrument; the latter two sections – both instrumental – are equally stunning as the first.
The album’s title track features the talents of Lexington’s Joshua Wright and Seth Murphy (of Bear Medicine), as the trio conjures imagery of a clipper ship moving fast across the water, “cracking through the dawn like a horsewhip.” Finally, an instrumental reprise of “Mood Indica” (the second of the three sections of “One Can Only Love”) brings the album to a close. Though the album originates from four recording locations and thirteen musicians, its seven songs fit together as one long breath, and Toth’s voice feels clear and intimate throughout. Clipper Ship is a fabulous album of beautiful, haunting stories with vivid imagery.
Tracks I Liked: School’s Out!, Mexican Coke!!, Mallow T’ward the River!!!, One Can Only Love!!, Clipper Ship!
Ben Southworth – April 23, 2017 – Kenwick Place