The title track of Jenny Tolman's newly released Married in a Honky Tonk is, like all the best country songs, rooted in truth. Tolman, who released the album just weeks away from her own wedding, isn't marrying her fiance, Grammy-nominated Nashville producer Dave Brainard, in a honky tonk. But the song -- an almost too-good-to-be-true tale straight out of a Music City writers room -- was inspired by a real life event.
"A friend of ours actually owns a bar here in town called The Local," Tolman tells Wide Open Country. "He became an ordained minister because there was a couple that wanted to get married at The Local. He Facebook-lived this entire wedding... I think that's where the inspiration for 'Married in a Honky Tonk' [came from] -- my real life, getting married, and then our friend actually becoming a minister and marrying somebody in his bar. I was like, 'Wait a second, this is happening in Nashville and nobody's written about this yet? [Laughs] This is country music gold."
It's that mix of humor and truth that has become a hallmark of Tolman's songwriting. Inspired by the wit and wisdom of songwriters such as Brandy Clark and Sunny Sweeney and the classic country storytelling of Dolly Parton, Bobby Bare and Roger Miller, Tolman is a master of delivering heavy topics with a dose of laughter.
"I always go back to this Roger Miller song called 'You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd.' If you listen to the song, it's the most ridiculous, wacky thing you've ever heard. But if you listen to the whole thing, the end of the chorus is 'but you can be happy if you've a mind to'....I just love how weird that is and how unique of a delivery that is," Tolman says. "If you're trying to deliver big messages all the time, it can start coming off as preachy... So for me, humor is a way that I can draw people in because everybody feels comfortable once they've been able to laugh with you."
Throughout a portion of the record, Tolman returns to Jennyville, the wondrous world introduced on her 2019 debut album There Goes the Neighborhood.
Jennyville, a small town filled with quirky characters -- think a little Dollywood and a little Desperate Housewives, is on full display on songs such as "Borrowing Sugar," "I Know Some Cowboys" and "Home To Roost," which is followed by a message from the Mayor of Jenyville, Jeannie Seely. ("I gave her this hot pink sash with rhinestones. It says Mayor of Jennyville. She is just such a supporter of female artists especially," Tolman says of Seely. "Obviously it's an honor to have a legend like her even involved in anything that I do.")
But Tolman also reckons with growing up on the album. On "Same Train as You," which she co-wrote with her fiance Brainard, she looks forward to spending the rest of her life beside a loving partner.
"Afraid," which Tolman penned over six years ago, was written about a realization she had after a traumatic event. In 2015, Brainard was attacked in Nashville and hospitalized with a broken jaw and multiple face lacerations. They weren't yet dating, but Tolman says the feelings that she felt for Brainard were undeniable.
"He was in the hospital getting emergency reconstructive surgery on his face. I was at home in my bed at my parents' house. I was only 19 at the time and having this realization of 'Oh my gosh, I am in love with him. That's my person," Tolman says. "So the fear factor comes in...is he going to be okay? Then the personal storytelling for me on that song is -- This man is twice my age. He's my producer. All these things about it that were like, 'No, no, no, I cannot feel this way.' That was [me admitting] 'I'm afraid that I'm in love with you.' It's a scary thing to admit and to even think about saying that out loud to him. Not only to him, but to the outside world and what people would think about that and the judgment that would come from a relationship so unique."
Tolman says that, while Jennyville will always be a part of her, Married in a Honky Tonk represents a next step in both her career and her life.
"I like to say that this album is kind of half Jennyville, half Jenny Tolman," Tolman says. "I don't think I'll ever let go of Jennyville. That's where my heart lies and my love of songwriting and storytelling and the characters all live...But then I'm also...I'm growing up. I'm getting married, I'm learning what it means to be an adult and a woman in this crazy new world that we're living in."
Married in a Honky Tonk is available for purchase here.
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