From the beginning of “Arriving,” James Toth cringingly wails, “Give me the haircut of an honest man.” This kind of prose is a gripping bite into the American gothic landscape.
The once Wooden Wand turned simply Wand continues the atmosphere that Toth built up throughout his career. Hard Knox is a bittersweet journey of dusty living through disenchanted pop. He shows the withered skin of his words, the focal point to this album. It’s as if he is sitting by the campfire and sharing his troubles with Augustus McCrae. Even in happier circumstances an eerie and haunting feeling emerges.
This recording also contains his last memories of his home in Knoxville, Tennessee, a memoir that paints a picture of warm hued memories etched in time . Much of the album was recorded on a few simple 8-tracks bonding him with the listener. It provides us with a certain degree of comfort and camaraderie. It’s not certain that we get hope from this, but we can certainly feel that we relate in some way or another through his recollections.
And for an album that was recorded between 2002 and 2007, Hard Knox seems seamless, and flows very well. Even though I don’t agree with some of his experimentations — I prefer the Dylan and Cohen-esque songs like “Saturday Delivery” or “Death Dealer Blues” than the Simon and Garfunkle method book of “Urchins” — I am confident that you will find something in Hard Knox.