In certain genres of music, including country, there is quite a focus on singer-songwriters, the two roles invariably coinciding. The voice serves the songwriting, and perhaps it also works the other way. But it’s easy to focus on the songwriting – because that’s where the stories come from – and forget that the singer part of the equation is just as important. It’s the singer who brings the songs not just to life but to the listener. Ella Fitzgerald was not a songwriter, nor was Frank Sinatra (although both were band leaders). It didn’t matter. Their art was in their voices.
Sydney-based artist Hayley Jensen was a finalist on Australian Idol and, in 2014, The Voice, so she is known for her voice. She is also a writer on each of the songs on her new album, Breakin’ Hearts, apart from the last (a cover of Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Angel’). So she is, in fact, a singer-songwriter. But let’s focus on the singer part of that equation for a minute because, well, she is an exceptional singer. She is a riveted-to-the-spot, don’t-breathe-so-you-don’t-miss-it singer. A singer whose voice has enough power to front a very loud band and enough subtlety to be just as captivating with an acoustic guitar and nothing else. So it is very easy to spend every minute you’re listening to Breakin’ Hearts solely appreciating her voice, then playing the album over and over again so you can appreciate it more.
Which is not to say that the songs – the songwriting – are not important, but to acknowledge that being a great singer is enough. If Jensen had not contributed to the writing of any of the songs on this album it would still be a powerful album, because that’s her skill, and her talent: to deliver each song with the meaning it deserves. It just so happens that she clearly has a knack for writing songs that give us memorable melodies and hooks, and which deliver the emotional highs and lows that happen on a journey through heartbreak and revenge and maybe a party or two.
Jensen shares one song, ‘Four Boots’, with Clayton Bellamy & The Congregation, and while it’s just fine it’s hard not to think of a line uttered by the character Alexander Lemtov in the movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga: ‘She is fabulous, but she should ditch boys.’ Jensen can sing over the top of most people, and most likely over the top of most boys, which is why it’s appropriate that she closes the album by sharing a track with Beccy Cole, who can hold her own with pretty much everyone.
Breakin’ Hearts has taken a while to emerge due to that pandemic, and Jensen has had to delay her tour in support of it yet again (look out for dates in 2022), but let’s hope she is soon writing more songs to sing, or simply singing more songs, for us to enjoy so much.
CDs available from hayleyjensen.net