Given the high standard of country music in Australia, it’s not often that an artist can exceed my expectations for their new album. I expected that Jess Holland’s album would be strong and bold and entertaining – she has a mighty voice and she knows how to use it. I also expected that the album might veer more towards blues – which her voice certainly suits – than country.
From the first track, ‘Ain’t Quittin’ This Run’, Holland declares that this album can take my expectations and toss them gleefully aside. Musically the album is a very well-rounded piece of work, and that’s because Holland doesn’t just deliver the ‘big’ songs but she gives us a lot of subtlety too. The first song has both, so it grabbed me and held on, and she kept me on the ride the whole way through.
Holland crowd-sourced the funding for this album and, as with all the other artists who have done this, she therefore had control over how this album was put together: who produced it, where it was recorded, who played on it. That the result is such a great album reveals not just that she is a fantastic singer and musician but also that she has a very clear vision for her music – and that this album is a true representation of what she wants to say as an artist. Given that that’s the case, what Australian country music now has is a truly diverse artist who can take a rollicking road song and make it soar, give us a torch song that makes our knees weak and then deliver a straight-shooting narrative that has us sitting up and paying attention. This is an album that should make any country music fan excited about where the ‘younger generation’ are taking the genre: while remaining eminently respectful of tradition, they are finding ways to drive country music forwards, taking the existing audience with them and finding new listeners along the way.
In the song ‘Fine Lines’, Holland sings, ”It’s a fine line between dreams and madness/Be careful how you play your hand’. Jess Holland was playing small pub stages at this year’s Tamworth Country Music Festival. This album surely has to be her ticket to bigger venues and bigger audiences – she deserves them for this album that is very clearly the result of her playing her hand just right.
Whole Lot to Say is out now.
Jess Holland is heading for the Top End:
Humpty Doo Hotel – 22 August
Darwin Rodeo – 23 August
Darwin Railway Club – 24 August