Published Nov 02, 2016Austin, Texas boasts a uniquely rich and heterogeneous rock scene, with SXSW attracting all kinds of sounds and homegrown talents ranging from the Black Angels to Spoon to Okkervil River and more. Jess Williamson embodies some of that alternative stew in her damaged country-folk. Her voice has the smoky bluesy-ness of Cat Power and the Appalachian twang of Angel Olsen.
Williamson's critically acclaimed debut was made following a return home to Texas, and a retreat from the stresses of the world outside her home. Her latest, Heart Song, turns her wary and critical eye to the comforts of home. On "Say It," she seems to challenge the support of her loved ones: "Do you know when I need to be coddled like a child / and when I need to be ignored?" Later, she seems to answer herself, singing that love "goes on thick and vulnerable as ice." She seems cynical about what others might take for granted as unconditional love or support. The "vulnerable as ice" line also implies that the closest relationships can be broken more easily than fixed.
In her vocal performances, Williamson heightens the emotional power of her personal revelations using melisma (ornamenting key words with multiple notes) and timbral variation (exploring different textures from husky to croaky to a clean falsetto). On "See You in a Dream" she does all these things while repeating the one line, "Now I can't hear 'em anymore," amplifying the lament of a loved one lost.
Though a lot of this material might come from a damaged place, by foregrounding that, a defiant perseverance shines through on Heart Song. Williamson isn't revelling in self-pity — rather, by carving out her insides, she demonstrates agency, action and an embittered sense of hope. (Brutal Honest)