Jess Williamson’s Heart Song is a brave record. It explores the strength in vulnerability, the power in silence and empty space. The recordings bristle with energy and confidence while maintaining the intense intimacy Williamson is known for. Like the visceral desert landscape that inspires her, she knows when to let her vocals drift across the song, light like a tumbleweed, and when to, like the fiercest of Texas storms, unleash thunder and lightning with her band.
A few years back, Jess Williamson returned home to her native Texas to reconsider everything and rethink the direction of her life. It was that about-face that gave her the security and solitude, the inspiration, needed to create 2014’s highly acclaimed debut album, Native State.
But that was two years ago.
Williamson’s sophomore album, Heart Song, questions the structures of support inherent in the comforts of home and showcases the rare kind of artistry that is the hardest to achieve after early success: change.
The opening song, “Say It”, eases the listener into a groove before the song cracks open and floods the landscape with squall and noise and thunder; announcing that Heart Song is not the same album as it’s predecessor, that this work is not only the next logical step in Williamson’s evolution, it is also a leap forward for her as an artist.
On the album’s centerpiece and title track Williamson wonders aloud, “Will I grow into my body?” but no one listening to her music, her poetry, will doubt her growth.
Is freedom really nothing left to lose?
Is freedom something that I have?
Something that I have, with you?
You’ve got the phases of the moon to blame
But I am a slave to a part of my heart
Nameless and untamed,
The seventh and final song, “Devil’s Girl,” closes out the album with a step back, just close vocals and quiet guitar, and we are reminded again of the essence of what makes Williamson such a phenomenal artist: her ability to tap into the universal. “Yesterday I was on the phone with a woman with my mother’s name/ Offering to meet me halfway between here and St. Louis /And I saw again the intimacy that comes between/ Strangers with stakes in the same crisis.” The song is a meditation and a restorative close to an extraordinary album.
Heart Song was recorded direct to tape in Austin, TX by Erik Wofford (The Black Angels, Bill Callahan) at Cacophany Studios and by the band in Jess’s house. It was mixed by Larry Crane (Elliott Smith, Sleater-Kinney, Cat Power) at Jackpot Recording in Portland, OR. The album is out November 4th on Williamson’s own imprint, Brutal Honest, and is distributed worldwide via Kartel.
Heart Song Tracklist:
1. "Say It"
2. "White Bed”
3. “Heart Song”
4. “Snake Song”
5. “See You In A Dream”
6. “Last Word”
7. “Devil’s Girl”
Praise for Heart song:
“Its ghostly instrumentation and measured pace distort your sense of time in a manner similar to stark classics like Songs: Ohia’s Didn’t It Rain.” Pitchfork
"The Austin singer-songwriter might be heir to the Karen Dalton throne." The FADER
“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.” Exclaim!
"A voice in the vicinity of Cat Power or Karen Dalton, intimate and husky, as if lit by candlelight." Mojo 4*s
“Her songs recall a feminine independence, with her eyes toward the open landscape, and the ability to survive whatever life throws her way.” The Le Sigh
“Sometimes, it’s what you don’t say—or play—that matters. In the case of Jess Williamson, it’s the vacancies that lend tension and texture to her lonesome, weather-beaten take on confessional songwriting.” MAGNET
“…a piercing, insightful collection of songs that incorporates the arid, sparse landscape of the Texas desert she calls home and creates a beautiful unresolved tension as she fights becoming too comfortable in it.” Stereogum
"Bare-boned country-gothic confessionals full of ruined romance, self-lacerating depression and regret." Uncut
“…her bracing sophomore record, Heart Song, another seven-track album that sees Williamson mapping out her emotions as if she’s trying to discover the place where they originated.” NYLON
"In turns stark and musically lush, hugely imaginative and yet entirely direct, the record seems to effortlessly move past her debut.” CLASH
“The woman herself seems like an enigma, a talented writer and incredible musician wrapped in one…" IMPOSE
“Williamson harnesses an intimacy with this record, like she’s laying amidst tousled sheets, guitar in hand, just singing to herself. It’s hyper sensitive and bodily, urgent but subtle. Even the album cover, with Williamson drenched in sunlight, implies vulnerability.” No Depression
“…it feels almost wildly evocative; noir-like fairytales of the human psyche that feel potently authentic.” Gold Flake Paint
“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.” BLURT
Praise for Williamson’s debut album, Native State:
"The mix, mic'ed close and buzzing with room tone, puts us too close. There's the rasp of her guitar strings, the sound of her thumb pads working the bass strings, and her hood-eyed glare: "Somebody there takes your vitals conveniently while you're on the phone with me/Well that's what I call fucking timing." It's all too close, and it's transfixing." Pitchfork
"Jess Williamson, the Texas songstress who sings with the dusky manner of the singer-songwriter Lissie and the parched tone of the long-lost Karen Dalton." The Toronto Globe and Mail
"Her haunting singing voice, which twinges and aches throughout, infuses those tales with emotion that is at once unnerving and soothing." PASTE
"Its title track, with folksy banjo, bass and a gripping middle section of mostly voice, feels a bit like a homecoming waiting to come, ending memorably with "When you’re gone, you’ll be tattooed under mountains on my arm," a mournful line like something out of Scott McLanahan’s latest elegy to Appalachia." The FADER
"Replete with morose fingerpicking, an Appalachian twang, and husky vocals reminiscent of Karen Dalton…" IMPOSE
"Jess Williamson knows a thing or two about painting a picture with her music—after all, she moonlights as a photographer in her hometown of Austin." MAGNET
"Like Joanna Newsom sans the shrill, her stripped sound and vocal vulnerability evoke a stark intimacy on this impressive offering." Austin Monthly
“It's a spare, personal experience that often finds Williamson with the simple accompaniment of a single instrument.” NPR’s World Cafe
“…this album comes across as a calm intake of a cleansing breath.” No Depression
“Minimal, throbbing banjo and electric guitar serve as the bed for Williamson’s Leonard Cohen-meets-Lorde confessionals. It’s easy to see her continuing in the footsteps of one-time Austin resident Joanna Newsom.” Dazed
“All of Williamson's songs have an ominous tension, like a dark cloud that threatens but never brings the relief of rain.” Pitchfork
“The Austin, Texas singer-songwriter Jess Williamson makes haunted, foreboding folk music…” Stereogum