The canon of Australian country and country-esque music is already rich and varied. There is such a variety of songs and song styles in our country music that sometimes I wonder how anyone will come up with something new. Well, Jenny Queen has – and, perhaps not surprisingly, what is different about her music is her. (And while she may be American, she lives in Australia and has created the album here.)
Queen’s distinctive singing voice curls around songs and tucks the listener into them at the same time – she can sound sweet, almost breathy at times, but there is something that sounds like menace there in its sharp edges. There is also vulnerability, loneliness and lament (and occasionally an echo of Kate Bush).
Queen’s voice sits atop thirteen songs that bristle, swirl and seduce as they tell the story of a small town. The songs are not traditionally country – they draw on whichever tradition suits them best, whether that is rock, blues or country. That probably makes them more accessible to non-country audiences but Queen honours the conventions of the genre enough to please fans too. And the album makes for a very interesting ride as the songs – and Queen’s voice – go to unexpected places sometimes.
The songs on Small Town Misfits
are layered and dense – but not crowded – with whichever instruments best serve the story that’s being told; these were musical decisions perhaps made by Queen’s producer, Shane Nicholson, who has for years demonstrated that he understands very well how to create music that fits sung stories. Nicholson appears on the third track, ‘Let Her Go’, and Brooke McClymont lends her voice to ‘Austin’. American singer-songwriter Matthew Ryan – who sings alongside Kasey Chambers on ‘A Million Tears’ – sings on ‘Killing Cut’.
However, Queen hardly needs help from others (although the value of a great producer like Nicholson shouldn’t be underestimated). She is clearly in command of this album. The only frustrating thing about it is that I’m left wanting more from her. Thirteen songs don’t seem enough – but would fifteen? Twenty? Hopefully we won’t have to wait long to hear whatever she works on next.
Small Town Misfits is out now through ABC Music/Universal.