Jess Williamson
Sorceress


4.5
superb

Review

by SowingSeason STAFF
May 16th, 2020 | 46 replies


Release Date: 05/15/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Growing old and making sense of it all, Jess Williamson has crafted an immensely personal piece with much wider-reaching implications.

Appropriate to its name, Sorceress casts a spell over me. The blend of lush folk-pop and country-rock is captivating, but that’s only where Jess Williamson begins. Pan flutes swirl and carry her voice like leaves caught in an updraft. Guitars bend and make you feel like you’re on a tropical island – or maybe in the wild west, depending on your perception. Williamson’s voice only serves to further transport, adding a smooth, sticky-sweet glaze to these beautiful arrangements. I’m helpless against my whims as I sit here clicking play over and over again, simultaneously mesmerized and charmed.

Jess wastes no time crafting this world and letting its aura take shape. Opener ‘Smoke’ layers her vocals in a harmonized chorus that is both powerful and strangely calming. Her voice is the greatest instrument on the record, fluently steering the melodies to the most poignant of highs and soothing of lows. With each successive moment, she draws you further into her creation with gorgeous, swelling accents. ‘Wind on Tin’ feels star-swept and is propelled by regal trumpets during the second half, ‘Infinite Scroll’ bobs along to a delicate disco-folk rhythm, ‘Ponies in Town’ takes flight with a brigade of flutes, and ‘Gulf of Mexico’ washes to-and-fro with subtly bristling electronics and fluttering strings. Everything about Sorceress seems designed to lift your feet off the ground, and it largely succeeds.

The funny thing about Sorceress is that the more you listen to it, the more it descends from the cosmos and becomes earth-bound. On the surface, it’s all very breathy and mystical, but as you drill down into the songs and their meanings, you’ll find that the experiences are that of an ordinary, aging human being. Jess loses a pregnancy. She declines an invitation to her ex’s wedding. She is moved by the sound of the wind at a friend’s funeral. It’s with these plaintive vignettes that she takes the aesthetic balloon that is Sorceress and pulls it down by its string one hand at a time, all the while singing, “there’s a little magic in my hat, but I’m no sorceress.” This is the sound of someone facing the harsh realities of adulthood; slowly but surely losing grip on the magical naivety of her youth.

It makes sense that with this loss of innocence would come observations about our modern society. Sorceress is a far cry from a political album, but there are moments that anchor it to this specific time in history, and the picture Williamson paints isn’t nearly as pretty as the music that surrounds her tales. At one point, Jess invokes the biblical story of a woman who anointed Jesus Christ with perfume and washed his dirty feet after he returned from his lengthy travels – drying them off with her long unbound hair – and contrasts it with the modern treatment of immigrants during the American border crisis, ultimately singing, “forgive my nation, they know what they do…I swear somewhere down the line we serve the same God as you”. It’s a heartbreaking anecdote about how politics triumph over decency, and her appeal to religion is no coincidence. Williamson demonstrates remarkable lyrical acumen on Sorceress, always finding the most eloquent way possible to convey her messages.

Amid all the love letters, tragedies, questions of faith, and uncertainties surrounding the present, the one thing that never wavers on Sorceress is Williamson’s determination. Every challenge is met with courage – not silver linings just for the sake of having them. Jess tells it like it is when something needs to be said, and in instances where there’s no reasonable solution, she turns to the ethereal and the spiritual. Her attitude could be summarized on the title track, when she sings with the ultimate conviction: “I'm not running anymore”. As Williamson comes into her own on her fourth full-length, it’s clear that she has not only reached an enlightened moment of clarity in her life, but that she’s also crafted the best album of her young career. This record is intensely personal yet wide-reaching, and even if Jess admits that she’s “no sorceress”, she certainly has a way of captivating her audience.



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user ratings (21)
3.5
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
SowingSeason
Moderator
May 16th 2020


34550 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

This album is a vast blend of intensely personal lyrics and wider-reaching world views, so it was a little difficult for me to capture the essence of it in a review but I did my best. It's strange to think that the past few albums of hers have such low averages; this is an AOTY contender for me.

Digging: Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 4

DrGonzo1937
Staff Reviewer
May 16th 2020


16404 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Nice review sow. Think I’ll have to check this out

Digging: Paradise Lost - Obsidian

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 16th 2020


34550 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thank you Gonz. She's got such a beautiful voice, I think no matter your musical affiliation, she will please. I'm really on board with the music and lyrics too - the Americana/country influences really shine and are exactly what I've been into in 2020.

JesperL
May 16th 2020


716 Comments


yeah this is gorgeous, thanks for bringing this to my attention! getting some 16 horsepower vibes from the instrumentation/lyrics which i'm all for

Digging: Mumrunner - Valeriana

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
May 16th 2020


18904 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Liked this a lot on first listen, wasn't blown away but I'll have to take another gander (:

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 16th 2020


34550 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Glad to see some folks checking it out. There’s not a bad song here.

zaruyache
May 17th 2020


22475 Comments


clicked the first track and this sounds quite good.

DrGonzo1937
Staff Reviewer
May 17th 2020


16404 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

really enjoyed this. the closer is fantastic

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 17th 2020


34550 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Nice, glad to see another staffer on-board! This grew on me immensely, so hopefully it will do the same for you. A lot of the individual tracks separate themselves over time.

DrGonzo1937
Staff Reviewer
May 17th 2020


16404 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah I’ve only jammed it once but I thought it was great. Not really the same, but I think I prefer honey harper more in comparison, but the instrumentals throughout are gorgeous. Really like this grand, lavish country style that I’m being exposed to this year by sput

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 17th 2020


34550 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah Honey Harper is maybe a hair better than this in my eyes, but they're in a pretty similar tier. They're both very lush and melodic indie-folk with country inflections, which is just my speed. 2020 has been great for this kind of stuff.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
May 17th 2020


1619 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

liking this a lot so far

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 17th 2020


34550 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Glad to hear it. There wasn't really a natural place to mention it in my review but "Love's Not Hard to Find" is probably the prettiest melody I've heard all year long.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
May 17th 2020


1619 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

a couple of the slower songs drag a little for me, but overall this is very good. "smoke" "infinite scroll" "love's not hard to find" "rosaries at the border" and the closer are all amazing songs. i can definitely see this growing more once i give the slower tracks more chances

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 17th 2020


34550 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Respectable. I'll admit some of the slower stuff bleeds together at first. Glad you enjoyed it!

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 17th 2020


34550 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Also you definitely picked out some of the highlights right off the bat

neekafat
Contributing Reviewer
May 17th 2020


18904 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Sowing your recent alt country fixation is cute and I approve (; Get on the DXC asap!!!!

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
May 17th 2020


1619 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

man i was so disappointed when their album got indefinitely pushed back. i have probably listened to "gaslighter" 200 times since it dropped

SowingSeason
Moderator
May 17th 2020


34550 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

That's the second damn time this week I've been called cute in the comments section of this site (see: Sturgill Simpson review). And you know what? I'm okay with it.

I'll probably start my Dixie Chicks voyage with the new album, whenever it drops :-)

bloodshy
May 18th 2020


966 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Damn this album was good. I was worried there might be too much John Deere and Budweiser when I heard "country rock," but nah. Even though I have a hard time listening to lyrics the whole way through an album, that heart-on-her-sleeve writing really shines through.



Excellent review as usual.

Digging: Before I Turn - Lovelorn: Moon



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