'Sorceress' Review: Jess Williamson's new album is a candle-lit mystery of magic and self in a chaotic world
Texas-born, LA-based singer-songwriter Jess Williamson has released her new studio album 'Sorceress' on May 15. An 11-track record of existentialism and magic, measured by the infinity of time from a New Age platform, the new full-length takes a head-first dive into universally-scaled themes of femininity, death of loved ones, the loss of innocence in a chaotic world, and more.
'Sorceress is Williamson's fourth studio LP and second with her label Mexican Summer. The perfectly-polished album was written in Los Angeles, recorded in Brooklyn at Gary's Electric studio, and then wrapped up at Dandy Sounds, a home studio on a ranch in Dripping Springs, Texas, where Williamson recorded the entirety of 'Cosmic Wink', her third LP which released in 2018.
Williamson said of the album, “There are three traditional archetypes for the phases of a woman’s life — maiden, mother, and crone. This is my mother album.” She explained, “If 'Cosmic Wink' was about naively trusting in synchronicity and magical thinking, 'Sorceress' is examining that impulse and what it points to.”
With a similar resonance of the tones and vocals of A Fine Frenzy or Molly Burch, 'Sorceress' captivates and enchants over ragged folk sounds.
With the album's opening track, 'Smoke', it is clear Williamson has fine-tuned her hazy vocals to cast a spell on her listeners: a promising intro to 'Sorceress'. Opening at mid-tempo with an acoustic guitar and steady beat, the song elevates into a clouded burst of vocals, harmonizing in a choir of her own voice.
The album's title track conjures the elements of nature for its incantations. In this fireside ballad, accompanied by chirps of cicadas, Williamson plays her musical cards with an intention: "I'm not trying to tame a lion," she sings, juxtaposing a lamb-like innocence with "I wanna be caressed" before noting, "Yes, there’s a little magic in my hat. But I’m no sorceress.”
In an album that doesn't necessarily highlight the day-to-day happenings of the songstress or make its meanings clear, 'Sorceress' rather entices in a shroud of subtly-delivered mystery. The LP's centerpiece, 'Infinite Scroll', "which is more than a song about a broken heart and disappearing memories," according to a press release statement, "but 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."
Williamson sings, “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," over bluesy guitar riffs and Fleetwood Mac-tinged sounds on the instrumentation. Watch the music video below.
Williamson broadens her vocal range in 'Love's Not Hard to Find'. Appearing more vulnerable and face-to-face with her listeners, the track feels like the most personal song on the album. The song opens with piano (similar in tone to Sarah McLachlan) as Williamson sings "Fix my hair and makeup. I'm trying to look nice. Can we talk about it now? The morning light is here. We get so caught up in it now. The smoke has cleared" and leads to its celestial chorus with Williamson taking breathy high notes.
Williamson sings from a third-person perspective in certain songs, evident in songs like the lead single 'Wind on Tin' (see the video below) or the final track 'Gulf of Mexico'. The former presents a story of a woman who travels to a remote desert town to attend the memorial service of a friend who died. "She thinks she hears the voice of God, and she’s either tuned in, crazy, or both," a statement reads.
In 'Gulf of Mexico', the female protagonist realizes, “My body’s here and aging, but I’d rather be at home/ Than having this cool conversation at the Gulf of Mexico.” Williamson also sings, "A woman goes through phases and. A woman goes alone. I can’t quite explain it. ‘Cause I don’t always know.”
In terms of its sound, 'Sorceress' is both well-produced and polished. Williamson's vocalization and lyrics are as deep as they are charming, with unctions of candle-lit imperfection and the finding of self in a chaotic world.