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.