Indie rocker Jenny Toomey
'pops' listeners with catchy love tunes
By Ellen Simonson
Daily Cougar Staff
Jenny Toomey goes way back in the indie
rock scene; she was a member of the bands Tsunami, Grenadine and Liquorice,
and she and Tsunami
bandmate Kristin Thomson were revered
for their aplomb in running their own record label, Simple Machines.
Charles Steck/Misra Records
Jenny Toomey fascinates her
listeners with her alluring voice and original pop tunes. Her latest album,
Antidote, is split in two — one half was recorded
in Nashville, while the other half was
finished in Chicago.
This year's Antidote is Toomey's debut
The album comes in two halves, one recorded
in Chicago and the other in Nashville.
The first song on the first half, "Patsy
Cline," is from the perspective of a woman addressing her ex-boyfriend's
"Don't ever give him pause/ To question
your commitment/ 'Cause that's his escape clause," Toomey says, before
paying tribute to the legendary
chanteuse with "Patsy Cline/ She had a
great line/ She said, 'You took him off my hands/ Now could you get him
off my mind?'"
Antidote is pure pop, which makes sense
considering Toomey's past (Tsunami especially was a brilliant pop band
in the Belle and Sebastian tradition,
bridging complex arrangements with sheer
The record features 17 musicians besides
Toomey, who handles guitar and vocals on each of the tracks.
Various songs include cello, bass, piano,
trumpet, flute, organ, violin, viola, piano, bells and clarinet.
One of the best songs on the "Chicago"
half is "Word Traffic," which begins with the anybody-can-relate lyrics,
"He had more records than words/ So he
played them when we're alone/ Instead
The song's chorus is glorious — "Don't
say a word, no, don't say a word, no," Toomey repeats again and again.
In the best pop-music style, it sounds
like it means nothing, but in context
it means a whole lot.
"Breezewood, PA" is another excellent song
Both the lyrics and the music are unflinchingly
honest. "I'm not offering a heart you could break/ Just a chance you might
make a graceful mistake,"
Toomey intones softly over the strings
in the background.
The first striking thing about Antidote
is the lush, lovely arrangements; the second is Toomey's voice, which is
clear and evocative.
The third is the lyrical content, which
is almost entirely subtle and insightful: "I'm anchored to how much I want
you" ("Fall on Me"); "There's as many
kinds of happiness as there are sorts
of sorrow ... The obvious never found a voice" ("Artful Dodger").
Only two songs out of the 16 on this album
are covers — "Needmore, PA" by Adam Cohen (son of legend Leonard) and "Fool
for You" by the equally
legendary Curtis Mayfield.
"Needmore, PA" works as counterpoint to
Toomey's own "Breezewood, PA," and she covers it well, but it's on "Fool
for You" that she really shines.
Her voice, even stronger here than on the
rest of the album, is clear and honest, while her backing musicians pay
a respectable tribute to funk.
The last song on "Nashville," "Further
Unclaimed," is a surprise.
Toomey plays the lounge singer here, her
voice low and raspy over a simple piano and string melody.
It's interesting, as though she is trying
to remind listeners that while she may concentrate on pop, she has a range
well beyond that.
Most of the songs on Antidote are about
love. In fact, most of them are about lost love, doomed love or love otherwise
But the eloquence and grace with which
the subject is handled makes it fascinating.
Pop music about love is nothing new, but
Toomey's take on it is. Repeated listening only makes Antidote more impressive
— Toomey is obviously a
musician to be taken seriously.
**** (out of five stars)