Jenny Toomey
Sun Oct 21

At the risk of embarrassing myself, I'm going to put this on the table right now: I idolize Jenny Toomey. She is the reason I was introduced to independent music, through the record label she started with Kristin Thompson in 1990, Simple Machines. She's also one reason why independent music flourishes the way it does, because of a life-changing little how-to booklet she and Thompson wrote, entitled "An Introductory Mechanic's Guide to Putting Out Records, Cassettes, and CDs." (The sixth edition is readable at She's one of the most consistently active people in music, currently serving as executive director of the Future of Music Coalition (www.future, an organization whose general goal is to educate musicians about their rights and work toward a "musician's middle class."

Beyond all that, she has one of the most heavenly voices on planet earth--a smooth, distinct alto that sounds intimate and raw, and a wail that sweeps so majestically, you think it's the actual sound of purity. She's been in perhaps five thousand bands since 1990--Geek, Choke, My New Boyfriend (with Seaweed's Aaron Stauffer, Christina Calle, and Tobi Vail), Slack (with Ida's Dan Littleton), Liquorice (with Littleton and Trey Many from His Name is Alive), Grenadine (with Mark Robinson), So Low (which culminated in a tour with Karate's Geoff Farina)--and, of course, Tsunami. Jenny Toomey has even co-written a musical, an actual theatrical production, with winky songwriter Franklin Bruno. However, she'd never released a solo record until last month, when Misra Records put out Antidote (five years in the making and a double album, at that).

"I worked on this record in a different way," says Toomey. "In the past, with Tsunami, we operated with the idea of getting our record out in order to do something--to get it out so we could tour. When I ran Simple Machines, our recording schedule was always based on an external structure. But this record was recorded over the course of several years; some of the songs are very old."

However, don't expect to hear the riotous distortion of Tsunami, or the spaciousness of Grenadine. Though Antidote is a sublime accomplishment, and possibly the best record of her career, Toomey has employed the style she's always hinted at--one indisputably based in piano jazz, torch songs, and musicals. With a huge cast of musicians (including Littleton, Amy Domingues, Edith Frost, and the entirety of the band Lambchop) playing Toomey's arrangements of cello, piano, flute, trumpet, organ, violin, viola, vibes, guitar, pedal steel, and clarinet, the vision on Antidote is subtle yet grand. Her wry, witty lyrics manifest in country-influenced ballads, soulful, loping jazz, and warm, brokenhearted pop songs. Jenny Toomey's voice was made for this sort of music--despite the mini-orchestra backing her, her singing is still the most prominent instrument.

To compose all the parts, she and trumpeter Kevin Cordt sat together at a piano and played what she thought the instruments should sound like. She says that involved "a lot of sanding and sculpting. At times, we would sit there with our air organ and just pound through the sections, trying to figure out what the clarinets and trumpets would do. There are some benefits of not knowing traditional music," she says. "Franklin Bruno tells me he'll take voice lessons if I learn basic music theory. But there is something to be said for different disciplines."

The last time Toomey played in Portland, she and Bruno performed some songs from their musical, and it was practically religious. He's accompanying her on this tour, as well, along with cellist Amy Domingues, Jean Cook on violin, and Jay Toby on drums. She hints that they might do more of the musical numbers--but even if they don't, quality and class will abound.