Xiao is Wooden Wand & the Vanishing Voice's homage to American Christianity, of the plastic-Jesus-on-the-dashboard variety of downhome worshipers who fear a vengeful god while letting slip with small sins every now and again, because, after all, they're human, ain't they? Alot of the lyrics and spoken word rants are deliberately obscured (the long-delay doubling effect on "Paper Trail Blues" for example) but what comes through is a reverence for that old-time relijun, along with all its inherent blemishes, foibles, hypocrisies, and fable-istic storytelling ("Lions in Love" references not lions but whales, and poor lonely Jonah). And the accompaniment is pure Vanishing Voice: minimalist, droney, structure-less (aka "free") and evocative. As is the case with every collaboration between James Toth's more straightforward Guthrie-meets-Dylan folk tales and the Vanishing Voice ensemble's experimentalism, this is a difficult listen at best. One of the more successful tracks, "Caribou Christ in the Great Void," combines Satya Sai's soaring lament-styled vocals and swampy wah-wah guitar meanderings with complete disregard for verse-chorus-verse or traditional rhythm. But self-indulgence prevails on formless improvisations like "Weird Wisteria Tangles Carrion Christ But Intends No Harm" which pairs free jazz piano, sawing cello, ethereal mumblings, jangling chains and bird calls for over 11 minutes. For those familiar with these unique artists, Xiao works on the same level as most of their other efforts. However, a caveat for the uninitiated: calling this material an acquired taste is putting it mildly. But if you free your ears and mind you may allow yourself to be taken to places hidden deep in the collective American psyche.
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AllMusic Review by Brian Way