"Do the innocent, die different from the guilty?"
"What makes you think I haven't had better offers on my soul?"
"If you die with a lie on your mouth, does the lie make a sound?"
"Who's gonna keep me from freaking out?"

These are several of the many questions James Jackson Toth ponders on his latest Wooden Wand release. And while the restless folk outlaw never dwells long enough to find concrete answers, it's his posing of inquiries both personal and universal that drive Blood Oaths of the New Blues. As the sprawling eleven plus minute opening pairing "No Bed for Beatle Wand/Days This Long" immediately proves, Toth, a songwriter famous for radical sonic shifts, didn't write Blood Oaths with the intent of winning over the frustrated and confused naysayers. But the album's surprising focus, rife with Toth's best songwriting yet, makes Blood Oaths an excellent entry point for anyone interested in tagging along on his troubled journey through modern Americana.
Toth's strongest lyrics have always been narrative based, and the best moments on Blood Oaths showcase his mastery for using songwriting as a vehicle for storytelling. For instance, "Outsider Blues," Toth's anecdotal travel diary about he and his friend Kristy's trip to Toronto, is so spontaneous that it feels like you're in the passenger seat when he quips "the pills we had taken were kicking in." His stories succeed in extending beyond himself in tales like "Southern Colorado Song," which hauntingly scores the exploits of the Dougherty gang, a real life family of bank robbers that physically embodies the modern outlaw lifestyle with which Toth's music has always flirted.
Throughout the band's career, Wooden Wand's lone constant has been James Jackson Toth and every whim he chooses to embrace, but Blood Oaths shows several signs that Toth might finally be settling down. For starters, he's in lockstep with a veteran backing band that supported him on 2011's Briarwood. Toth's familiarity with his supporting cast provides Blood Oaths with a full band personality that other releases have lacked. Lyrically, Toth also contemplates quitting "moving around" to "plant a flag in the ground" on "Outsider Blues" before closing the album with "No Debts," a convincing case for staying put after years as a vagabond. Whether Toth ultimately does stay grounded or he's just catching his breath before the next nomadic journey, Blood Oaths is the effort of a songwriter who has settled into an engaging, endearing sound all his own.