Album Review – Jenny Tolman’s “Married in a Honky Tonk”

photo: Hunter Berry

Bravo Jenny. This is the kind of country album we needed right about now. It’s funny. It’s fun. It’s sentimental right when it needs to be without getting too syrupy, and it’s oh so country. This isn’t rocket science, folks. Take your cues from all those country heroes and influences, infuse them with a little individualistic personality, put out a record that is the right mix of familiar and original, and don’t forget to just be entertaining about it. Apparently, that’s actually harder than it sounds, but Jenny Tolman makes it sound so easy.

I’ll be honest. At first I didn’t fully understand the Jenny Tolman genius when she released her debut album There Goes The Neighborhood in 2019. I couldn’t tell exactly if it was trying to be traditional or contemporary. And just who was she trying to emulate? It kind of felt like a Pistol Annies album with the attitude in certain songs, or a Kacey Musgraves clone with some of the kitsch.

Sure, those influences are present. But through crafting her own little universe that she calls “Jennyville,” Tolman doesn’t ape anyone. She’s finding inspiration from every one of the proud women who’ve brought the feminine perspective and a frisky attitude to country in the past, from more contemporary influences like early Musgraves and the Annies, to the honorary Mayor of Jennyville, Jeannie Seely.

Frankly, this is the kind of record we wish Kacey Musgraves would release again as opposed to dropping acid and making artnoise pop with a bunch of hipster indie rock producers. Married in a Honky Tonk is the perfect mix of silly and sentimental, traditional but accessible. It’s also pretty much a cover to cover collaboration with her producer and romantic beau Dave Brainard, who co-wrote most of the songs with Jenny as well. It was a labor of love, and their relationship and nuptials are in certain ways a backdrop for the record, woven into the campy doings inside Jennyville.

Songs like “World’s a Small Town” and “Watering The Weeds” dispel the idyllic facade of the white picket fence world with a splash of wit, but are underpinned with words of wisdom in a way that make them as enriching as they are entertaining. “Home To Roost” will have your sides splitting with all the double entendres and wordplay, and doubles down on the idea that no matter how rambunctious this record gets in moments, it’s always well-written.

Being country isn’t just about music and instrumentation. Dave Brainard’s borders for the record stick mostly to the country genre, but he’s also not afraid to let it breathe a little bit, bringing a Gospel touch to a song like “Watering The Weeds,” or a horn section in for “Working Women’s Blues.” Yet whether it is “Working Women’s Blues,” or “Borrowing Sugar,” these are songs you could hear Tammy and Loretta singing in their day, rooted in the Southern woman’s perspective and experience.

The title track is maybe where Jenny leans a little too heavily on the silliness. Then again, that opinion comes from someone who could never understand the appeal of Alan Jackson’s “I Don’t Even Know Her Name.” But even if you’re inclined to forgo all the more corn pone elements of country, you will still find ample offerings from Married in a Honky Tonk to suit your genteel side, whether it’s the sincere vulnerability Tolman expresses in the solo written “Afraid,” or the superbly-written “Sweetest Revenge.”

It’s one thing to be able to wordsmith catchy little country fried ditties about coca-doodle-do’s. Expressing how forgiveness is sometimes the best way to get one up on your adversaries in a way that makes you believe that dollop of country wisdom, that is an entirely different discipline. On this album, Jenny Tolman pulls off both, and everything in between. It’s versatile and spicy to keep your ears perked and mind alert for what’s coming next.

All the appetites of your country music palette are satiated by the end, with your funny bone tickled, you brain stimulated, and your spirit raised. Jennyville is a fulfilling place to spend a few hours, and return to often.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8.5/10)

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