Jess Williamson: Sorceress (Mexican Summer) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, October 22nd, 2020  

Jess Williamson


Mexican Summer

May 18, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Los Angeles by way of Texas singer/songwriter Jess Williamson has put forth her most confident and captivating outing yet in Sorceress. Unfortunately Sorceress’ spell is broken by a few ill placed tracks early on that keep the album from reaching the mesmerizing song cycle heights of her forebears—Willie Nelson’s Red Headed Stranger and Nanci Griffith’s The Last of the True Believers come to mind. But Sorceress comes awfully close. The album sucks you in from the beginning with “Smoke,” which strikes the balance of being acoustically crisp while also creating a lush palette of pedal steel over which Williamson’s lilting vocals stride. “Smoke” turns out to be one of the more clangorous songs here, but also pushes the listener into Williamson’s world of both country and jazz underpinnings that blend effortlessly together. The similarly hypnotic “Wind on Tin” includes sly references to Neil Young’s small town origins and perhaps even an iconic spot outside Marfa, Texas, while making a sophisticated country sound all her own.  

The stripped down and stretched out title song hearkens back to 2016’s Heart Song album, but also serves to throw on the brakes to the early flow established.  The song even elicits a yawn from Williamson at its end. More jarring still is the following “Infinite Scroll.” Not a bad song by any means, but the soft pop approach creates an unexpected thud when it lands in the midst of the otherwise hypnotic cadence of the album. 

Fortunately, Sorceress regains its footing on “Love’s Not Hard to Find.” Williamson’s feather-light and layered vocals create their own pillowed in effect while the instrumentation accented with pedal steel and sax provides its own caress. The lyrics of “fixed my hair and makeup” link to “Smoke” and serve to cement the promise of the album’s opening tracks. “How Ya Lonesome” provides a sultry late night soundscape that would sit well alongside Roy Orbison’s similarly cinematic approaches. But it’s truly on the closing four songs that Sorceress elevates to evidence Williamson’s mastery of her craft. 

Williamson’s religious upbringing comes to bear on the sensitively tackled “Rosaries At the Border.” Rather than raging at her own country’s failings, Williamson turns her lens to lift up the least among us. She makes holy the “hem of what they’re making her wear” as she imagines laying prostrate at the feet of the most marginalized. From here, Williamson continues to interlace the most evocative of images. “Ponies In Town” not only revels in a new found independence, but recalls visions of horses seen “running from the highway” as she barrels out of town. While the prayerful and a cappella start to “Harm None” is met by one of the most deft displays of the full complement of instrumentation here. But leaving her emotional masterstroke for last, “Gulf of Mexico” blends an atmospheric sense of nostalgia with the age of online dating.  Where finding another lover is as tongue in cheek easy as finding “her on your phone.” Synths weave in to the building, marching towards maturity on one of the loveliest and wisest end cappers you will hear this year. 

Whatever Williamson’s mission on Sorceress, she comes incredibly close to creating a cohesive work of art on par with some of the great ones we’ve heard over the past few years. The most consistent passages here compare well to something like Julie Byrne’s Not Even Happiness. If the effort was primarily to put together a collection of a near dozen perfectly listenable songs, Sorceress surely succeeds in that. The out of synch interruption of a few earlier tracks only sticks out because of the near perfection of the album’s start and finish. If Williamson has an eye towards a fully formed work, Sorceress clearly shows that’s well within her reach. (  


Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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