News & Stuff
Listening to Lessons & Lovers in full is a journey – Wonky Tonk captures the realities of life and love in eleven short songs. The ups, the downs, the good, the bad, and everything in between. Listeners of all ages can relate to these visceral moments of desire, anger, confidence, and longing all captured in a folk album that I can imagine jamming out to in my car, windows down, on a hot summer day.
Before getting into specific songs, I have to say: man, can this woman sing! Her voice ranges from melancholy croons, like in Cryin’ Shame, to bellowing howls, like in Everyone’s Got a Brian. Her voice, paired with moments of overwhelming instrumentals, truly makes the album feel like a journey.
At closer listen, it is clear that there’s much more to the album than impressive vocals and instrumentals. Wonky Tonk’s lyrics share words of wisdom, grief, even comedy. Actually, Wonky Tonk’s persistent sense of humor struck me throughout the album. In Everyone’s Got a Brian, she curses out a helpless man named Brian, telling him: “Don’t be a dick, it’s easy.” She finds comedic relief in the stereotype that men can easily anger women and all I have to say is…well, I wouldn’t want to be Brian. The whimsical undertone comes full fledged in Suitors when she laughs about having too many suitors in her small town. It’s fun and goofy, which counteracts the desolate, longing tones in other tracks.
Somehow, Wonky Tonk makes moments of anxiety, depression, confusion, and loss palpable to listeners. In Cryin’ Shame, Wonky Tonk’s crooning mimics someone with a broken heart crying into the night over a lost lover. In Never Trust a Doctor, her soft and soothing voice juxtaposes the grief-stricken words of a recent heartbreak. She takes the traditional tropes of romance and throws them into a contemporary context, adding her own flare and uniqueness. In Stock Market, for example, Wonky Tonk asks the undying question: “Why does love bring me so much pleasure and so much goddamn pain?” Well, by the end of the album, it seems she has found the answer.
The album wraps up with Lessons which perfectly ties together the raw emotions of the other tracks with binds of learned wisdom. Considering the profound insight and reflection in these lyrics, I think Wonky Tonk must have aged a decade between writing Everyone’s Got a Brian and Lessons …. She seems to answer her own question posed in Stock Market, why does love bring me so much pleasure and so much goddamn pain? All the ups and the downs described on previous tracks have led her to the realization that difficult times make her stronger. With empowering vocals, she declares: “I’ve got all the love I need.” Rather than seeking love from others she has found it within herself.
I have all the respect in the world for Wonky Tonk for the cultivation of such a layered album. A strong, feminist country artist who speaks openly about personal experience with depression and anxiety? That’s what I like to see! More importantly, though, I admire Wonky Tonk’s depiction of her journey to self-love and acceptance, a destination that ends an uphill journey for many.
We’re not going to pretend that a band with a name like Wonky Tonk singing a song called ‘Wonk On‘ is likely to provoke thoughts of whimsy and quirkiness – maybe it’ll sound something like Lavender Diamond? If that is what you have in your head then just forget it. Well, maybe not completely, there is some quirk, but don’t let it prevent you from hearing what is a hell of a song.
‘Wonk On‘ comes from the latest album -‘Lessons & Lovers‘ – by Cincinnati, Ohio-based band Wonky Tonk & the HighLife. Wonky Tonk – also known as Jasmine Poole – told us about the song and how it relates to the world right now.
“‘Lessons & Lovers’ was quietly released during the onslaught of pandemic, and ‘Wonk On’ has been sitting here whispering, “wait, wait … wait until the world is ready.” During this Pandemic I have been quarantined in Ecuador where I uprooted in order to hear my heart better. I have witnessed the world from the center, and my ‘life’ from afar. The fear and anger, denial and depression, of quarantine, of virus, of social unrest, of injustice, of every single part of our ‘concrete’ lives diminished to sand and beckoning to become a village of sandcastles with acceptance of the newly forged materials; propelling us through grief, rapid-fire, in all aspect of our lives, bodies, minds, spirits and souls. ‘Wonk On’ is the sound of choosing life, choosing love, choosing to move through the grief and learn the lessons; to trust our hearts and what they are singing, to love our bodies and to remember our dreams.”
Engaging Greater Cincinnati singer/songwriter Wonky Tonk is gearing up for the release of her anticipated new full-length album, Lessons & Lovers, which is due later this year and is the follow-up to her 2015 debut LP, Stuff We Leave Behind.
In advance of the release of the album — credited to Wonky Tonk & The High Life, which features bassist Eric Dietrich and drummer Alessandro Corona — comes the music video for “Lessons,” the penultimate track on Lessons & Lovers.
Like a lot of Wonky Tonk’s material, “Lessons” borrows some tools and tricks from Folk and Country music playbooks and toolkits. But the music is never limited by those facets, boasting a clever experimental slant that gives it its distinctive charm and often an Indie Rock edge.
Think Jenny Lewis by way of Modest Mouse.
Wonky Tonk's music exists entirely in its own universe, though, sounding exactly like exactly no one else.
“Lessons” begins with just guitar and vocals, but as it creeps along, sounds swirl in the background subtly, creating a haunting ambiance. The song builds, sonically and emotionally — Tonk’s voice grows increasingly confident, moving from reflection and melancholy to full-on strength and empowerment, escalating to a refrain of “I’ve got all the love that I need.” In the video description, “Lessons” is described as “a song about self-love, the healing power of love and the light choosing Love brings to even the most mundane.”
Along with her music, Wonky Tonk has a history of great, artistic music videos. “Lessons” see her reteamed with director Dave Morrison, who helmed her clip for “Four Letter Word,” the 2017 Cincinnati Entertainment Award winner for Best Music Video.
Lessons & Lovers, Creative Reviews
Poole draws musically from female country powerhouses like Lynn, too, as well as from elements of folk and classic singer-songwriters like Lucinda Williams; Wonk’s personal songwriting and acoustic-to-the-guts sound transcend genre — but not relatability. The Wonk with the Highlife, or the Wonk as a duo, will be touring until at least later July, playing in venues across the Midwest and beyond.
“Stuff We Leave Behind” is a great album, where poetry and dusty truth-telling meet heartland country, ragged rock ‘n’ roll and long-ago alt-rock against Poole’s fire ‘n’ candy vocals. Poole doesn’t pull punches (see “Suitors”) and once said life is too short to pretend. I mention John Lydon’s “only the fakes survive” quote. “They’re Twinkies, right? The Twinkies never expire,” Poole said. “I don’t have patience for baloney.”
Not many people would trust a tarot card reading they bought with a Groupon, but for a musician like Wonky Tonk, it just seems to resonate with that special part of who she is and where she finds herself on her journey.
A tireless performer and songwriter, Wonky Tonk is preparing to release her second full-length album, Lessons Not Lovers, this summer.
It took some relentless pursuit, but after a few years of trying, I was finally able to get her to sit still long enough to spend some time with me in the studio. As we sat down together, I wasn't sure where our conversation would go, and though I resisted asking about "being a girl in a band," it just naturally went in that direction. I found myself fascinated by her stories, her view on music, life, and everything.
This in-studio performance includes live versions of the songs "Stock Market" and "Never Trust a Doctor" from the upcoming album Lessons Not Lovers.