The title track of Wanted, the new album by multiple Golden Guitar nominee Jayne Denham, is also its breathtaking opener, calling listeners in to pay close attention to what’s going to follow. Written by Denham with Troy Kemp and Matt Scullion, the song incorporates some themes from Denham’s previous work – including her association with truckers – but it’s not a story about her. Instead, it’s a tale of ‘a high-heeled Jesse James’ who has a ‘broken-heart reward on her head’ – and after it was written Denham realised it could form the basis for the whole album. So it is that Wanted can be listened to as a song cycle, but its songs can also be taken individually, and will mean just as much as they do inside that cycle.

Coming after such a declarative opening track, second song ‘Dear Jayne’ – also written with Kemp and Scullion – with a slower pace and more reflective tone, could have been a risk, except it’s as much a statement of intent as ‘Wanted’ is: the yin to its yang. It’s a song to a younger Jayne, a reassurance that things won’t always go to plan but everything will be all right. So it’s with the context of the balance of these two songs that we are led into the rest of this compelling album, which is about taking risks without necessarily seeking rewards and finding rewards where you don’t expect to. The message seems to be that life is a gamble, and accordingly losses are always a likelihood – but it’s always worth taking the bet, because the good is likely to outweigh the bad.

Denham is a unique figure in Australian country music: she seems all at once like a naughty sister, favourite aunt and someone you’d dearly love to make your friend. Perhaps that’s because she sings from a place of authority – her voice is so strong and commanding – but there’s always a wink, a smile and warmth in it. It could also be that her songs (the ones she writes as well as those written by others, and there are some of those on this album) often acknowledge that life requires maintaining a balance between having fun and toeing the line, between doing the dutiful thing and giving in to impulse from time to time. Bad decisions don’t make you a bad person, unless you don’t learn from them. That’s why you’d want Denham to be your friend: she’d be there with solid advice, a laugh and shoulder to cry on if needed. In lieu of Denham actually being your friend this album is a good substitute, because something else Denham can do is sing as though she’s singing just to you. So it’s quite easy to think that she gets it, and she gets you, and that kind of reassurance is a beautiful thing to have in this world.

Wanted is out now.

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Upcoming tour dates (lockdowns depending):

Friday 17th September – Mezz Bar – Wallsend Diggers Club – Newcastle, NSW

Saturday 18th September – Springwood Country Club – Springwood, NSW

Saturday 16th October – Country by The River Festival – Murray Bridge, SA

Friday 12th – Sunday 14th October – Groundwater Country Music Festival – Broadbeach, QLD

Thursday 18th November – Hallam Hotel – Hallam, VIC

Friday 19th November – Gateway Hotel – Geelong, VIC

Saturday 20th October – Tumbarumba Hotel – Tumbarumba, NSW

Saturday 15th January 2022 – Moonshiners – Tamworth, NSW