January 12, 2002

Jenny Toomey "Antidote"

Please forgive Jenny Toomey. It seems that the hardest working woman in indie-rock showbiz hasn't had the time to make music. From her days as punk-rock grrrl of Tsunami, to the atmospheric folk of Liquorice and the suave indie-pop soul of Grenadine, Jenny spent most of the 1990s making tons of music. While she was doing all of that, she was also running Simple Machines, not to mention all of the day jobs, tours, volunteer work, music writing, political activating, and, most recently, her support and work with low-bandwith radio and her Future of Music organization, which is carrying her torch of DIY aesthetics set forth in her Mechanic's Guide to releasing and making your own music. So if Ms. Toomey hasn't had the time to make a record, I'm sure you'll understand why

That she's been gone doesn't mean that she's been forgotten, nor has she forgotten the reason she's here: music. Antidote is her "return to form," as well as her solo debut. First things first: don't be put off by Antidote's double-albumness. It's not so much a double album as you'd like to think. Instead, it's a collection of recordings from two separate recording sessions in two separate cities---Chicago and Nashville. An inspired decision; while both CD's could easily fit on to one CD, the sessions work so much better when heard separately.

As you might expect, the two cities' musical backgrounds reflect heavily on Antidote. The first disk, "Chicago," is the Jenny we've come to love and expect. It's a rockin' affair, with a little bit of jazz influence. She's brought along some impressively talented friends, too: Andrew Bird plays violin, viola, and sings; Edith Frost and Johnny Navin sing backup, and Dave Trumfio recorded the affair. At times, you can't help but think of the sorely-missed Grenadine, whose jazzy indie pop was the first indication that Jenny had the torch-song spirit. Two of the songs, "Clear Cuts" and "Useless Excuses," are throwbacks from her Liquorice days, though that's not a bad thing. In fact, the entire album sounds like it could have easily been the follow-up to Liquorice's sole Listening Cap.

If the "Chicago" echoed triumphant the sounds that Jenny's worked so hard to develop over the past decade, then the "Nashville" disk is Jenny setting sail for the future. With a few key players remaining, and joined in part by several members of Lambchop, this second disk wears its country on its sleeve. Slower, sadder, and slightly more dramatic, Toomey belts out such winners as "Unclaimed" and "When You Get Cold" with the soulful tenacity of Patsy Cline and the lushfully lush undertones of Kurt Wagner. This second disk is much more whiskey-stained and smokey than anything she's ever done before, and there's hope that maybe she'll keep on cranking out country-soul for at least a little while longer. Her cover of "Fool for You" by the late Curtis Mayfield is perhaps the greatest surprise on here; you wouldn't expect a whitebread indie-rocker to really reach into her heart and pull it off without a smothering of irony, yet she pulls it off with as much grace and charm as someone who has no use for punk, indie, and internet issues.

Antidote is a return to form from a talented woman who has never really defined her form. Though too short in places, and the contrasts between sessions make you feel that one record is essentially better than the other, instead of being judged together, Antidote is nothing, if not promising. Maybe, just maybe, Jenny won't get too busy with her music-related activities to expand on the promises of Antidote.. Though I doubt she will slow down for one minute, I'm pretty sure that next time in the studio will be fabulous.

--Joseph Kyle

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