Dave McGovern
staff writer
June 01, 2006
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Rock Music Reviews
Wooden Wand
Harem of the Sundrum and the Witness Fig

Harem of the Sundrum and the Witness Fig is the first solo album from Wooden Wand. The other two full lengths from Wooden Wand have been with psych group The Vanishing Voice. The previous full lengths are equal parts dense and intense. This solo effort from Wooden Wand is straight up folk with a touch of low mix electric guitar wankery and layered vocals.

Many of the songs on Harem follow the form of the opening track, “Leave Your Pearch . . .”: a main, typically finger picked, acoustic guitar melody with one or two backing guitar tracks, one of the guitar tracks wah-wahing in the distance. One mournful and troubled vocal track will eventually lead to additional backing vocals, at least one of which is falsetto. “Babylon the Great, Pt. 3”, “Sundrum Ladies” and “Eagle Claw” are increasingly better than “Leave Your Pearch”, but essential the same boring presentation. While the musical composition is lacking throughout the album the vocal progression and lyrics are the real points of interest on Harem.

The best lyrical songs are “Spiritual Inmate” where the narrator tells us about his religious bondage: I am the air and water / I am to him what he is to me. The storytelling of “Vengence, Pt. 2” warrants comparisons to the best of Palace Brothers: when the drinker of giants is less than his thirst he’ll swallow the blessed along with the cursed / the first will be last but the last will be worst and god says vengeance is mine.

The vocals on Harem start out as troubled sounding as any criminal in a Johnny Cash or Robert Johnson song. With the echoed long distance collect call of track 6, “(Ask a) Sufist Chef”, the tone begins to change. “Forgiveness Figg (Bethany Hotel Blues)” features the happiest vocals of the album. This vocal elation builds to the acapella vocal chant of the last track “Warn Winch, pts. 2-3”. Unfortunately this last track wastes its potential. The album further frustrates the listener with it’s focus on the repetitive.

Harem of the Sundrum and the Witness Fig was originally released as a limited cassette. The album has the aesthetic hum and distance that is consistent with audio quality of cassettes. This sonic distance translates into the overall feel of the songwriting: the listener is never really let into the world of Wooden Wand. The energy of the albums with Vanishing Voice is absent on Harem. Fans of traditional American folk will enjoy Wooden Wand’s updated take on this specific genre songwriting, but overall the record feels a bit distant, emotionless, and rushed.

Release date: May 9, 2006
Label: 5 Rue Christine
Rating: 5.5 / 10

On the web: woodenwand.net
[RMR]