Welcome to Jennyville, population...well, we're not exactly sure. But you're bound to have a damn good time when you enter the amazing technicolor world Nashville singer-songwriter Jenny Tolman created for her stunning debut album There Goes The Neighborhood.
Jennyville is Mayberry meets Desperate Housewives -- teeming with colorful and hilarious residents likely to get into brawls at the Tupperware party or flirt with the butcher at the Piggly Wiggly. But it's also filled with some of the most heart-wrenching and honest country songwriting you'll hear this year.
Tolman says the concept of Jennyville developed when she began working with producer Dave Brainard.
"Over the course of a year or so we started realizing that everything we were writing was in this vain of these crazy characters," Tolman tells Wide Open Country. "It felt like you were going into a different world. It was actually Dave (Brainard) who said 'What if we actually named this place that we're in and what if we called it Jennyville?' We were really just kind of writing in that space as a place to us to go when we're creating where there's no boundaries and we can say whatever we want and explore whatever we want. I could really start to step into some narrative roles, which is a lot of fun in country music. It just kind of evolved from there and it ended up turning into this concept that you now here all over the record."
Tolman grew up in Nashville, where her dad performed in a barbershop quartet called the Indian River Boys. (They were featured on Garth Brooks' No Fences record.) The group reunited after 30 years to appear on a "commercial" for Jennyville's Tuffy's car wash on There Goes The Neighborhood. ("When I would read my stories in class in middle school, I wrote commercials." Tolman explains, laughing. "Apparently I love commercials.")
"I've really learned a lot from Roger Miller and Dolly Parton," Tolman says. "When you're able to create a funny scenario but have an enlightening message at the end of it, I feel like it's so much more impactful because if you make people laugh they get comfortable with you. Then once they're comfortable they're more open to hearing what the actual root of the message is."
Even Tolman's funny songs, featuring a "coupon clipper with a push-up bra" (the riotous "Work It") and proud women with a "champagne taste on a Natty Light budget" (the fan favorite "High Class White Trash") make a bold statement.
"They seem funny on the surface but at the root it's talking about a powerful woman who knows her worth," Tolman says.
"So Pretty" addresses romantic jealousy and brings to mind country classics like Parton's "Jolene" and Lee Ann Womack's "The Fool."
"I think it turned into a really powerful message for people to hear, especially young women. With the generation that we're in with social media and everything, it's so easy to compare yourself to every other woman. You start getting down on yourself or start projecting that anger on to them." Tolman says. "The woman to woman narrative is one of the most powerful narratives there is, I think, because women feel so strongly -- only things that women can feel."
"There Goes the Neighborhood," about a group of women all vying for the affection of one (very) unavailable man, has more hot gossip than "Harper Valley PTA" and is just as much fun.
The swooning "Tulips" and "Used to My Cooking" are ideal country love songs, while "Love You Too," which centers on a woman struggling to learn to love herself, provides an emotional gut punch to anyone who's ever found themselves having a hard conversation with the bathroom mirror.
One of the most rich and creative albums to come out so far this year, there's something for everyone in Jennyville.
"My goal is to help open people's minds to different types of creativity, because obviously it's a different sounding album than a lot of what's in country music right now," Tolman says. " [I'm] just kind of getting to allow people to explore their own creativity again. My favorite thing about art is that it can be interpreted in so many different ways. It's like when you're reading and you see it in your head and everybody sees whatever you're reading or whatever you're hearing differently. I just get really excited by the thought of people getting to exercise their own creativity when they listen to it, because it's not just something that's just cut and dry."