So much country music is about movement – between places, experiences, from one broken heart or beer-soaked dive to the next. It’s the spirit that informs Sorceress, the fourth album from LA-by-way-of-Austin singer-songwriter Jess Williamson. Equal parts lazy psychedelia, West Coast breeziness, and traditional country with modern perspectives, Sorceress (out Friday via Mexican Summer) takes these recognizable languages and coats them in thick, beautiful haze – to occasionally excellent effect.
Over 11 dust-covered, dusky tunes, Sorceress manages to evoke whispered intimacy and wide-open spaces (and often a sense of both at once). Much of the album feels like hallucinations of country songs – vivid enough to believe in, but too ethereal to touch. Opener “Smoke” is a space-filled slow burner, marked by pillowy pedal steel accents; “How Ya Lonesome” sounds like you’re watching a tumbleweed move across a movie frame in slow motion, with Lee Hazelwood echoes throughout.
There’s an easiness to the way Williamson inhabits these songs. She has a Dolly Parton-pretty voice, but she mostly mines the smoky territory Angel Olsen has staked recent, prominent claim to. You can’t quite shake the feeling she’s holding back – it feels like she never truly unleashes her powerhouse potential. But the material never really calls for showy gestures; instead Sorceress is an album built so that it feels effortless, with the title track and “Love’s Not Hard to Find” showing off a kind of casual, conversational smoothness.
Beyond its rich production (courtesy of Williamson, Shane Renfro, and Dan Duszynski, both of whom also play on the album) and easy mood, the album stands out when it leans into the music of the ‘70s radio dial and ‘90s alternative influences. First single “Wind On Tin” has the light, windows-down, Laurel Canyon vibe so emblematic of Los Angeles – cool, shady air with occasional heatwave shimmers of sound. “Rosaries At The Border” hints at Mazzy Star with its slightly detached melody and softly strummed 12-string acoustic guitar, but lays off the psychedelics before it loses its nearness. “As The Birds Are” has the kind of laconic, stoned-but-immediate melody Tom Petty excelled at, while “Infinite Scroll” echoes Night Moves’ excellent 2019 album Can You Really Find Me – Fleetwood Mac at their most weary and neon-bathed.
While the meat of the album is all cut from a similar cloth, Williamson hints at three interesting, spacey directions on each of the album’s closing tracks. “Ponies In Town” juxtaposes folksy fingerpicking and cosmic synthesizers; “Harm None” is like a lost cut from Cat Power’s The Greatest, but out of a Twin Peaks episode set in Nashville; and closing ballad “Gulf Of Mexico” balances deep, interstellar synths and a rootsy backdrop. They are tantalizing glimpses of potential – new colors and forks in the road to perhaps follow in the future.
Ultimately, for all its ease and elegance, Sorceress feels like a midpoint, not the finish line. It’s an assured, fluid, and beautifully constructed listen, with a backbone of real emotion that prevents it from becoming too cloudy. But it also feels like Williamson is on her way somewhere even more interesting – and that this is just a much-welcomed pit stop on a slow, picturesque trip to somewhere new.
Words by Andrew Ledford