James Jackson Toth, aka Wooden Wand, has come a hell of a long way from the days when he made sparse, spooky, acoustic-based freak folk records with the Vanishing Voice. A gradual but undeniable evolution occurred in Toth's work over the half-decade or so preceding Briarwood's release, with each Wooden Wand outing becoming an increasingly more visceral proposition. Briarwood feels like the final step in that process, or at least a definitive one. The album's origins lay in Toth's sessions for a split single with former Verbena bassist Duquette Johnston, on which the former was backed by Johnston's group, the Gum Creek Killers. The project went so well that Toth ended up returning to the band's Alabama HQ to record his latest batch of tunes, with Johnston co-producing, and a couple of Toth's favored henchmen along for the ride. The band -- christened the Briarwood Virgins -- delivers a dirty, swampy, bluesy brand of roots rock that comes off like Crazy Horse in a drunken late-night jam with the Drive-By Truckers. There's plenty of Alabama mud audible on the soles of these sounds, and nary an acoustic guitar in sight, with the exception of "Good Time Man." It all adds up to an unprecedented amount of forward motion for Toth's wordy, image-laden tunes, giving them just the right amount of kick and concision. For his part, Toth hasn't backed off from his lyrical vision or simplified his style, he simply seems to have let it meld organically with the rootsy stomp served up by his cohorts, and it proves to be a happy musical marriage. Briarwood is simultaneously one of the most immediately accessible Wooden Wand records to date and one of the most lyrically resonant.