BY MARGARET GRAY
In her senior year at IU, Jenn Cristy broke the women’s Big Ten swimming record for the 50-yard freestyle. At the time, as one might expect, the young Tennessee native saw her future in competitive swimming. Yet in just six months, she would be on the road, singing backup for John Mellencamp on his 2001 tour. In 2010 Cristy was on the road again, this time performing with her own band promoting her third album, Hotel Confessions [She released her fourth album, Crawl, in 2012]. So how does a young woman go from college athlete to rock performer?
Well, the musical talent was always there. A pianist since the age of 4, Cristy came to Bloomington on a swimming scholarship and was admitted into the prestigious IU School of Music. With swimming and music competing for her attention, after one semester Cristy decided to focus on swimming and switched to general studies. But people knew she could sing and during her senior year, as an acknowledgement of that talent and her swimming accomplishments, she was invited to perform the national anthem at an IU men’s basketball game. It just so happened that Mellencamp was in the house.
Remembers Cristy, “John came up to me and asked if I would record with him on Cuttin’ Heads. A lot of people thought he was crazy, hiring a swimmer just out of college to sing on his record.” After graduation Cristy stayed with Mellencamp for the next 18 months. “I left the tour when I got pregnant with my daughter, and after she was born I decided to see if I could make it on my own.”
Back in Bloomington with husband Ben Strawn and daughter April, Cristy made two self-produced albums in 2005 and 2006. Confessions, released in 2009, is a “little bit darker with a lot more bite” than her previous works, she says. While she’s been compared to a lively Ben Folds in piano style, on this album she explores some of her other influences, including Tori Amos and Queen. The band members filling out her rock-piano sound are Dave Dwinell, Andy Stocker, and Allen Paurazas.
One critic has written that Cristy’s new album “places her at the forefront of a new recipe for a soul-rock combination.” Another says her band has an “energy and talent that is rarely generated these days.”
Hotel Confessions is on iTunes and all her albums are sold at her shows.