Monday, October 6, 2008

Revisiting Toni Childs

I've been putting some old, nearly forgotten CDs on my iPod lately, among them Toni Childs's "House of Hope" from the early 90s. When one of those songs played in shuffle while I was housecleaning (the only way I can force myself to houseclean is by cranking the tunes), it stopped me in my sweeping and took me back to the emotional place that album used to occupy. Generally, I don't listen to music with the same intensity as I did once upon a time. Perhaps that intensity gets lost along with youth, or perhaps it's more difficult to find music that speaks to the longings of middle age. "House of Hope" spoke deeply to me in the early 90s. The combination of Toni's unmistakable, powerfully yearning voice (she has one of those big love-it or hate-it voices you can identify in one note) and unabashedly emotional lyrics hit me in the spine. It was a lights out, listen alone album. As much as I've changed in the past seventeen years, the songs on "House of Hope" (the title track you may remember from "Thelma & Louise") sound as rawly beautiful to me now as they did then. And I recalled the album dedication to "people who are growing, to people who are just getting by, and to people who are hanging on for dear life." Oh, how uncool and melodramatic, yet, listening to her, I believed she meant it and saw her as a kindred spirit with a fragile ability to cope with life's hurts. 

Since I hadn't heard about her in years, I did a bit of googling and discovered Toni is alive and well, after a long period of unwellness. Her MySpace page features new music (her first album in many years) and videos from recent appearances on Australian TV. On her website, she discusses each of her albums. She said neither her record company nor American reviewers particularly liked "House of Hope," but many people wrote to her about it, telling how the songs helped heal and even save their lives. Eve Ensler, writer of "The Vagina Monologues," was one of the people moved by the album, and Toni contributed "Because You're Beautiful" to Ensler's documentary "Until the Violence Stops." About the new album, Toni says, "I am so pleased and excited about getting another opportunity to make a record I love after all these years." Welcome back, Keep the Faith.

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