Jess Williamson: Sorceress LP
We're in the midst of an occult revival, in large part because people are searching for meaning. As the esoteric scholar Erik Davis wrote, "We turn to psychedelics, the occult, meditation, not just as another form of ideology, but because they reflect something true about the situation we're in." Magic is something that can live in chaos and make use of chaos, and these are chaotic times.
Jess Williamson's Sorceress, her fourth album and second with Mexican Summer, arrives during this cultural moment. Fittingly, it addresses these issues via personal epiphany and offers revelation in the real sense of the word. Across eleven country western prayers and pop incantations, Williamson melds the magical with the day-to-day, and makes it feel universal. On the title track, a gorgeous fireside ballad that finds her accompanied by the chirps of cicadas, she sings "Yes, there's a little magic in my hat / But I'm no sorceress." The thing is, she certainly sounds like one. Sorceress is polished and assured and it hits immediately. T
he Texas singer and songwriter makes deeply felt songs that orbit around her powerful voice, a voice that's strong and vulnerable, big-room flawless, quietly ecstatic, and next-to-you intimate. When she has something to say, even when it's a kind of Dolly Parton whisper, you listen. Offering a deep-hued kaleidoscope of dusty '70s cinema, '90s country music, and breezy West Coast psychedelia, Sorceress weaves a woman's wild love letters to a confusing present and uncertain future. It's a record about loss of innocence and acquired wisdom that's self-critical, self-assured, and soul-searching. On the lead single, "Wind on Tin," for instance, the narrator travels to a remote desert town to attend the memorial service for a friend who passed away. She thinks she hears the voice of God, and she's either tuned in, crazy, or both. Nothing is ever entirely clear, as evidenced on album centrepiece, "Infinite Scroll," which is more than a song about a broken heart and disappearing memories: The track is also a sly commentary on life online (infinite scroll is a web design technique employed by social media outlets like Instagram and Twitter), as well as an appreciation for the magnitude of time itself, and how little we have here on Earth: "I was on one then, really leading the pack/ Swearin' love can't die when I believed that/ Time did unfold like an infinite scroll." But, of course, love can die-it's beautiful and ecstatic, but also complicated and imperfect.
The opening chapter of a relationship often feels otherworldly because, in many ways, it's removed from everyday reality. So, what happens when that sparkle starts to fade? Maybe you jump ship in search of that same kind of easy-going magic elsewhere, or maybe you double down, growing something that's more complicated and less glitzy, and ultimately deeper and more fulfilling. Williamson ponders this sort of transition across Sorceress-like on the triumphant closer, "Gulf of Mexico," where the protagonist realises she'd rather leave the drunken debauchery of a proverbial day in the ocean (and the ease of dating apps), for a cosy night at home: "My body's here and ageing, but I'd rather be at home/ Than having this cool conversation at the Gulf of Mexico." This song, and Sorceress in general, isn't about just one woman though.
As Williamson sings later in "Gulf of Mexico," harmonising with a choir of her own voice: "A woman goes through phases and / A woman goes alone / I can't quite explain it / 'Cause I don't always know." Sorceress is as much about the hours in the studio with collaborators perfecting an elegant new sound, as it is about spending time by yourself trying to find focus in the everyday: something centred, something that can help control the chaos.
History-and life-are not clear-cut, emotions are not black-and-white, and no matter how good things seem at any given moment, the chaos doesn't seem to want to stop. As she sings in "Ponies in Town": "Should we give up on Tarot?/ Maybe it's a waste of time/ I remember holding you/ I remember when we met/ And how it happened all too fast/ I was still damp with regret." And still, you keep going.