It takes a certain conviction to make all the “woo-woo” stuff — tarot cards, astrology, crystals, fertility’s relationship to the moon, and the like — seem as though it might actually be able to heal us. And Jess Williamson makes a strong case for it. Williamson’s music has always dipped a toe in mysticism and spirituality, but now she is immersed. Her latest, Sorceress, is a fully realized foray into the otherworldly, the occult, and it goes down like a healing tonic for the present chaos in which we’re living. A real example of a piece of art not created amidst a pandemic, but that speaks to it presciently, Sorceress offers a new way to heal and soothe our souls: a little magic.
In her songwriting and in the ethereal waves of her vocals, Williamson paints with vivid brushstrokes vast landscapes, some stark and others rich and full. This strong sense of place, whether it’s the arid Southwestern desert or a field drenched in wildflower colors, keeps Sorceress rooted on earth, even as it toys with forces greater than us. In the whirling ’70s psych-rocker “How Ya Lonesome,” Williamson sings of saging stones and cleansing a space. On the hushed and spare “Ponies in Town,” she wonders what she’s getting out of tarot readings as time becomes more precious. Time and aging, especially as they relate to the female body, show up again on powerful album closer “Gulf of Mexico.” In it she sings, “The lines in all our faces are only gonna grow / If we wanted to be mothers / we’re out of time for being alone … a woman goes through phases / and a woman goes alone.” And we find ourselves questioning alongside her narrator whether those sounds she’s hearing are ghosts or some eerie effect of nature on album standout “Wind on Tin.” In what feels like an acid trip through Marfa, Williamson captures the uncertainty and paranoia that can come from grief, her voice plush and smooth in contrast with the distorted synths.
A song like “Infinite Scroll” shows Williamson can pull off a charged pop melody just as effortlessly as a pastoral folk moment like the enchanting “Love’s Not Hard to Find.” Alternating between a breathy wisp (“As the Birds Are”) and the strength of her lower register (the magnificent “Smoke”), Williamson’s voice, in all its soft femininity, is the centerpiece of Sorceress. The clarity and slight quiver of it, and the way it cuts clear through then floats just above us in the atmosphere make us feel held by her. It is beautifully suited to her words, whims and wonders, woos and all.