James Jackson Toth

Waiting in Vain (Ryko)

With Waiting in Vain, Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice alum James Jackson Toth has adopted an approach that is somewhat more polished than his previous efforts, thankfully without jettisoning his subterranean outlook. The album's 12 tracks careen through a variety of styles, including R&B, country, and laid back rock 'n' roll. But the emphasis isn't on genre—Toth makes his choices to serve the purpose of the songs.

Yes, Waiting in Vain is a singer/songwriter album. But rest easy: Toth's methodology is more similar to that of Warren Zevon or Michael Gira (of Swans/Angels of Light) than Jackson Browne or James Taylor. The songs often come across as grim and gritty narratives, and it's clear that Toth is well-schooled in picaresque literature. Inhabiting the sleazy saloons and back alleys of the American experience, Toth's characters face life with a grim but determined outlook. I'm surprised the disc itself doesn't smell like a bar.

(Toth hung his hat in Knoxville for a while during his Wooden Wand and the Vanishing Voice days. The liner notes for Waiting in Vain suggest when you're here, "eat at Chandler's.")