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Jess Williamson - Sorceress Music Album Reviews

The Texas singer-songwriter’s fourth album sounds older and wiser, casting her mystical interests as a foil to the bittersweet, ordinary moments that add up to earthly life.

For around $38, or the price of three cheese raviolis at Olive Garden, you can buy a 1.5-ounce jar of “Sex Dust” at Urban Outfitters. Sex Dust is an “aphrodesical warming potion” sold by the wellness brand Moon Juice, one of many witchy, New Age-y remedies endorsed by Gwenyth Paltrow, whose GOOP empire helped bring psychics and Tarot to the mainstream. You might also pick up some quartz crystals and zodiac tapestries, or a “survival mist” to tide you through Mercury’s retrograde. Nowadays, the occult is crudely commonplace, which poses a problem: In 2020, a folk singer with a collection of songs titled Sorceress and a passion for books on “spirituality, new age weirdness, and ... witchy woman 101” might be a little passé.
But Texas singer-songwriter Jess Williamson’s fourth album is not breathlessly absorbed in the cosmos; it’s thoroughly grounded on earth. Whereas 2018’s Cosmic Wink was, in her words, about “naively trusting in synchronisticity and magical thinking,” Sorceress discards utopianism. The word “sorceress” emerges as a refusal, an acknowledgement of mortal limitations: “Yes, there’s a little magic in my hat/But I’m no sorceress,” she tells a skittish lover on the title track. Wistful observations like “you ain’t a tourist here no more” signal the time that’s passed; her body, she repeats, is aging. The moments Williamson documents are bittersweet and ordinary: having enough money to buy the expensive eggs, or losing a pregnancy, or getting invited to an ex’s wedding but wisely choosing not to go. The overarching sense is of someone who’s wised up; she’s too old for turbulence. “Can we put the coffee and our favorite record on?” she asks, fatigued, on “Love’s Not Hard to Find.”
Williamson has a fluttery, plaintive voice reminiscent of Angel Olsen or Faye Webster, and the mood of these songs is that of watching an old friend pack their belongings and disappear down the road. “As the Birds Are” is especially forlorn and cinematic, like a classic film heroine taking one last glance at the wreckage before she goes. “Oh, to live in some photograph,” Williamson cries, apologizing for her past cruelty. “Wind on a Tin” was inspired by a revelation at a friend’s memorial service, when she heard an angelic, flute-like noise blown by the wind. “I heard God,” she murmurs, and you understand how someone can be moved by such a simple sound.

The best cuts on Sorceress are effortlessly golden, glimmering with pedal steel, tambourine, and the occasional sliver of saxophone. The swelling disco-folk lament “Infinite Scroll” glows like a desert sunset. But Williamson missteps when she adds too many embellishments: cicada chirps and a whipping sound on “Sorceress,” meant to emphasize the line “I can’t tame a lion,” or choir-like harmonies on “Ponies in Town” that feel as kitschy as Christmas at Hobby Lobby. And the album trails off with a set of slower, dustier compositions, like “Rosaries at the Border,” an immigration ballad with the well-meaning but florid Jesus rhetoric of a “thoughts and prayers” statement.

But these are small sins in the grand scheme. Sorceress is a mature and freeing record, one that celebrates meager triumphs of womanhood even as it mourns a loss of innocence. “Should we give up on Tarot? Maybe it’s a waste of time,” Williamson wonders. Of course, the magic was never in the cards, but in piecing together your own faith.

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