Toni Vere "Just to Be"
Finding happiness due to the absence of another is a little like rooting for one team to lose, rather than hoping one of the teams to win. It’s all about putting ones hopes in a negative outcome, instead of focusing on what’s sincerely good. Toni Vere sings, “I get a little peace of mind/Knowing that I’m better off without you there” on a rhythmic, country track called “100 Miles”. But don’t let this isolated observation lead you to believe Vere is an overly negative person. Vere has gone through some major life changes over the past decade or so, and you cannot understand the present and future, without also analyzing the past. Just to Be is a fine ideal, although life is never lived in such a clear cut vacuum. Instead, we are made to embrace what we were, are, and hope to become, and this 11-song release finds Vere appreciating the here and now as best she can.
There are moments when Vere comes off somewhat like a female version of John Denver. It’s not hard to imagine that Rocky Mountain man, for instance, singing the praises of nature, as happens during “My Backyard”, or considering a family heirloom, as Vere does with “Grandma’s Old Guitar”. Folk is probably the most encapsulating description of what Vere creates, although there’s a whole lot of country thrown into this mix. Vere is at her country best during “Which Train Did I Miss”, which rumbles down the tracks at a mighty powerful clip. It’s a road song, and every songwriter’s got one in him/her. “The room we had to stay in had some uninvited guests”, Vere says of this icky, literal roach motel.
The major change Vere made in her life involved coming out as a lesbian, but there aren’t a whole lot of lesbian-themed songs on this disc. “The Girl Next Door”, a folk-y, horn-accented track, however, speaks out about Vere’s life change. It begins with Vere confessing, “I wrote this song it’s kind of gay”, and she’s being quite literal.
Vere is pictured in the CD’s artwork holding and playing a trusty acoustic guitar, and acoustic-centered country-rock is her bread and butter. She steps away from this musical direction briefly, however, by ending the project by singing “Pinch Me”, which is piano-based, as well as guitar colored. It’s also Vere’s most straightforward love song. Rather than come off like the toughened observer she plays much of the rest of the time, Vere sounds positively giddy with romantic love. “Just about every single time I hear your name/My heart skips a beat” she proclaims, like a head-over-heels in-lover.
This singer/songwriter appears to be torn between her complex current life, and the simple lifestyle she desires. A song like “Levi Strauss” was likely inspired by a favorite pair of jeans, just as “Grandma’s Old Guitar” is about a favorite relative and “My Backyard” zeroes in on a favorite beatific place. By writing this way, Vere will likely come off far less threatening than, say, Melissa Etheridge, who treats sexuality like a dangerous minefield. Vere only wants to be with the one – and ones – she loves, as well as surrounded by things she obtains pleasure from. You don’t get the feeling she aims to cause any waves or engage in sexual politics; she is what she is, that’s all.
However, all this album’s playing nice sometimes makes one long for a little more edge from Vere. A little vitriol is probably good for the soul; if nothing else, it’s particularly nice on the ears. There’s an old newspaper saying, which states that stories about dogs biting humans are immediately downplayed. But the moment a man bites a dog, now that’s news! Domesticity is great for stable relationships, but it doesn’t always lead to engaging art. Toni Vere is here just to be who she is, so don’t expect any daring career moves. Instead, she’s a seeker of the good – but simple – life, and she wants to tell you about this uncomplicated life in song.
Review by Dan MacIntosh