The Upshot: The sheer force of her feeling bends these quiet songs into surreal crescendos of longing and sorrow.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
Jess Williamson has a voice like a flame, now flickering in darkness, now flaring up into a blinding sheet of fire. It’s a voice that trembles but not in fear, rather in an up-to-the-brim helping of emotion; the sheer force of her feeling bends these quiet songs into surreal crescendos of longing and sorrow. If you were transfixed by Angel Olsen’s spare, blues-folk inflected early recordings, Williamson offers the same kind of lacerating solace.
Williamson’s voice is arresting, a haunted amalgam of Karen Dalton and Tanya Donnelly, but don’t it distract you from her very fine guitar work, which surges and crashes rock-and-roll style in the title track, but flutters prettily in the more folk-acoustic “Snake Song.” The production on Heart Song sheathes spare sounds in eerie, phosphorescent echo, so that even the simplest melodic line vibrates with supernatural resonance, as if it’s tapping into other overtones from other rooms.
This is the Texas songwriter’s third recording, following 2011’s Medicine Wheel/Death Songs EP, and 2014’s longplaying debut Native State. Like the titles that preceded it, Heart Song is self-released via her own Brutal Honest label (which, with a solid distribution scenario, reportedly plans to add other artists to the roster soon), and signs point to a larger profile ahead for Williamson. She’s toured Europe lately with Marissa Nadler, as well as with Kevin Morby, not to mention with Lucy Dacus in London.
“Heart Song,” is the standout here, a hypnotically paced blues vamp, where two guitars fly apart, then join together, where Williamson’s trilling alto sobs, screams and plots resilience over a tumult of blues. “Will I grow into my body?” she asks, in a momentary lull, a quiet contemplation in the eye of the storm. Likely she will. It’ll be exciting to watch her take control of her unusual voice and vision.
DOWNLOAD: “Heart Song,” “Say It”