For those of you who haven't heard the news, Tempting is a record of 12 songs written by the fabulous Franklin Bruno and recorded by the world's best musicians and sung by Jenny Toomey.
Those of you who have followed Franklin's work may recognize reframed standards such as "Inarticulate Boyfriend" from his heralded Etudes for Voice and Snackmaster Shrimper cassette, or the country-styled "Cheat" from his Simple Machines album A Bedroom Community. You may wonder why we aimed so high. It was a daunting task, but I'm placing a fiver on the tree stump that when you've got the CD under the laser you'll swoon to the Calexico-fried forms these songs took once we got Joey Burns and John Convertino in the room, after seventy dollars worth of shrimp tacos from Pico de Gallo.
Mr. Convertino in particular is all over the record, supplying the classic backbeat to the one-woman Supremes on "Every Little Bit Hurts," and digging out the perfect percussion instrument for the forays into calypso and bossa nova territory. Besides the aforementioned Calexicans and friends, all your trading-card favorite musicians from Antidote (Jenny's widely acclaimed 2001 double CD) are here in newer, "specialer" roles. Buy stock in a castanet manufacturer now: There's sure to be a run on the instrument after the world hears Amy Domingues's blaze of flamenco glory on "Your Inarticulate Boyfriend." And when Amy forgot her cello wasn't a bass early in the sessions, she plucked "Just Because It's Dying" until her index finger was a full half-centimeter shorter. As for Franklin, well, we convinced him to leave the distortion pedal at home and tickle the keys, the vibes, the occasional guitar...and the tiny, detuned banjo that was laying around our engineer Craig Schumacher's Wavelab hit factory.
Franklin listened to Jenny's tales of woe, pulled some songs that fit the situation from his extra-large piano bench, and wrote a passel of new ones just for Jenny to sing, as if she were Judy Garland to his Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, or Elaine Stritch to his Stephen Sondheim, or Dionne to his Burt and Hal, or...you get the point. After all this, I'm too exhausted to describe the title track...but it's tempting. -From the Label
Five Stars in PULSE
Label owner (Simple Machines), punk-band leader (Tsunami), music critic and founder of the musician's rights organization Future of Music Coalition--Jenny Toomey is a woman driven to do it all. With Tempting, she can now add chanteuse to her growing résumé. On Tempting, Toomey performs 12 tunes by songwriter, UCLA philosophy professor and Nothing Painted Blue bandleader Franklin Bruno, a gentleman whose work, both lyrically and melodically, harks back to icons like Cole Porter and Noel Coward. Toomey's superior vocals balance sincerity and irony, and the subtle pop arrangements, sweetened by understated string charts and inventive rhythmic touches, are top notch. Bruno's tunes deal with adult concerns--infidelity ("Cheat"), passive-aggressive relationships ("Your Inarticulate Boyfriend"), the advent of middle age ("Let's Stay In") and dysfunctional relationships ("Only a Monster")--with a combination of insight and humor that marks him a masterful pop songsmith.
By j. poet
Toomey makes like Sinatra on the sly title track, plays Ginger Rodgers to Joey Burns's Fred Astaire on the charming retro-duet "Let's Stay In" and, in a slight departure from the album's neo-cabaret focus, goes girl-group on the punchy pop plaint, "Every Little Bit Hurts." Such heartfelt efforts will surely bring these wonderful songs closer to mainstream ears. - Richard Harrington
If indie rock has a class president, it's lovely, well-heeled, and politically active singer-songwriter Jenny Toomey, who preaches the D.I.Y ethic with more savvy than Ian MacKaye and Calvin Johnson combined. On Tempting, the carrot-topped chanteuse gets a cast of tasteful, wide-ranging musicians (including Joey Burns and John Convertino from Calexico) together to tackle 12 songs by über-witty Nothing Painted Blue frontman Franklin Bruno. Like Richard Davies, Joe Pernice, John Darnielle and Stephin Merritt, Bruno crafts catchy songs that blend a misanthropic and ironic world view with borderline sappy emotions. This lounge-flavored alterna-tribute is relentlessly strong. Toomey has turned into a spectacular torch singer; her muscular voice demonstrates Olympic grace throughout, but it really shines on the string-driven "Empty Sentiment." Unabashedly wordy and witty, Tempting is the ideal accompaniment to a lazy Sunday spent figuring out the New York Times crossword puzzle. --Mike McGonigal Amazon
MN CITY PAGES
Julie London... Or Julie London crossed with Patsy Cline and Scrawl's Marcy Mays--which is about the sound that former Tsunami leader Jenny Toomey hits on her new album, Tempting: Jenny Toomey Sings the Songs of Franklin Bruno. The album is a kind of indie-rock Nilsson Sings Newman, and a better introduction to Bruno's songs than his own albums.
Toomey's dusky, slightly twangy alto brings out the full breadth of Bruno's American Songbook-informed melodies and she interprets his literate lyrics with aplomb. Backed by a tasteful band highlighted by Bruno and Calexico's Joey Burns and John Convertino, Toomey sings a set of new and old Bruno numbers that touch on Brill Building pop, bossa nova, mariachi, Sinatra swing, and Chet Baker moodiness, but are rarely mere genre exercises. On songs such as "Unionbusting," cleverness is the whole of the lyrical law. But it's a virtuoso cleverness, and lushly tuneful. Torch songs such as "Just Because It's Dying," "Pointless Triangle," and "Only a Monster" boast similarly striking melodies, as does the album's lone rocker, "Every Little Bit Hurts" (not the Gladys Knight tune--better!).
Tempting proves that specialization was a key to the success of the Golden Age Broadway Bruno so admires. Cole Porter wasn't a bad singer, but he was no Ethel Merman, and he knew it. Okay, so now that Jenny Toomey has the ball rolling on covering the Bruno songbook, can somebody get Bruno in touch with Michael Feinstein?