10. JENNY TOLMAN
Music provides the ideal vehicle for Tolman to examine a sometimes-painful world with a blast of sardonic humor as she continues to distance herself from very difficult teen years and fully embrace her bold, brazen adult viewpoint.
That Tolman would turn to music to find her way makes complete sense. She grew up in Nashville, the daughter of a talent buyer who started in music as a member of a barbershop quartet, the Indian River Boys. Interacting as a concert professional with the likes of Garth Brooks, Vince Gill and The Oak Ridge Boys, the Tolmans established a safe home environment while treating stardom as if it were run of the mill.
She started playing open-mic nights and guitar pulls in Nashville, timidly at first, but music professionals invariably recognized her singular creative talent. That included songwriters such as Mark D. Sanders (“I Hope You Dance”), Rory Bourke (“You Look So Good In Love”) and Marty Dodson (“Must Be Doin’ Something Right”), plus producer Dave Brainard (Brandy Clark, Jerrod Niemann), who was enamored with the sultry-but-vulnerable quality in her voice.
Tolman and Brainard began writing regularly, and he helped her connect with the wry influences in her arsenal, including Roger Miller, Bobby Bare and Shel Silverstein. As their writing relationship continued, the dramatic, weighty attitudes of some of her earlier songs soon evolved into witty, slice-of-life writing, often using gossipy observation to demonstrate how relationships with others can provide insight about one’s relationship with themselves.
A chunk of those songs coalesced into There Goes the Neighborhood, taking a sort of Desperate Housewives approach while portraying a series of women who are at once lovable and neurotic. Building the album as a cast of characters allowed Tolman to inject pieces of her own personality into each storyline without making it entirely autobiographical. She casts the other women’s eccentricities with a stark humor, then takes a deep dive into the dark corners of her own self-doubt.
In the end, There Goes the Neighborhood is a sort of Gladys Kravitz take on relationships, a snoopy, busy-body approach to figuring out how other people work. But in the process of looking at those other characters, Tolman’s own relationship with herself begins to make sense. Her darker, brooding period has given way to a lighter, funny Jenny Tolman who embraces a glass-half-full approach to life.