Plains Traverse Life's Highways on the Beautiful 'I Walked with You a Ways'

BY Dylan BarnabePublished Oct 12, 2022

The country ingenue to pop star pipeline is well documented, but the indie darling to country songbird less so — Jess Williamson and Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield are the latest to embark on this less trodden path, and they may just be its greatest success story yet. 

Renowned singer-songwriters in their own right, Crutchfield and Williamson — who met in 2017 and quickly bonded over like-minded creative sensibilities and a shared childhood love of country music — decided to explore a musical partnership following the individual successes of their respective 2020 records Saint Cloud and Sorceress. The duo's joint venture, Plains, harkens back to their respective Southern roots (Crutchfield was born and raised in Alabama, Williamson in Texas) and channels a shared love of country music by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and the Chicks.  

It's rare to find a debut album that sounds as effortless as I Walked with You a Ways, let alone one that appears to have been as equally effortless to bring to life. (The album purportedly only took a few vocal takes to record in Durham, North Carolina.) It speaks to the strong alignment of Crutchfield and Williamson's vision, as well as their ability to weave powerful narratives into song. As solo artists, the two have proven themselves as impassioned lyricists with exceptionally keen eyes and ears, but one listen to the golden-hued vocal harmonies on "Summer Sun" or "'No Record of Wrongs" raises the question — how did one ever exist without the other?

Across ten tracks of dust-blown, light-infused country music, Crutchfield and Williamson bring to life a beatific range of highways and small towns — of "summer sun that melts candles" — with the grit and wisdom of the guitar-slinging women who came before them. Therein lies the real beauty of I Walked with You a Ways: strong, complicated and unapologetic women owning their agency and leaning headlong into the musical lineage that's always existed at the margins of their own work. "Problem With It" steadily gathers steam and boldly asks for more: "If it's all you got and it's enough you say / I got a problem with it." Meanwhile, "Hurricane" describes a woman who blows through town with a force "like a cannonball" and "Easy" finds strength in refusal — digging in your heels, or spurs, to fight for something worthwhile. Solitude is also explored in the eponymous closing track's echoed refrain of"no one watches over me." And while Crutchfield and Williamson have never shied from these intense interrogations of relationships and selfhood in their own music, there's a sense that together they give one another permission to push back, let loose and enjoy the ride. 

Much like Angel Olsen's recent turn to country with Big Time, I Walked with You a Ways is a welcome addition to the genre and perhaps signals a new level of accessibility for other artists looking to make a similar steel guitar slide-over. The talents of Crutchfield and Williamson cannot be underplayed, nor their deft ability to convey and intuit emotion. As Williamson sings on "Abilene", there is "Texas in my rear-view / Plains in my heart" — and a whole lot of open road that stretches ahead of both women.
(ANTI- Records)

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