By Paul Stinson
Cut from the cloth of a classic country singer yet destined for a road house in a David Lynch movie, the songs of Jess Williamson captivate, beautifully break and nourish the heart of those brave enough to travel her road.
Once a fixture of the Austin scene and more taken to travel as of late, Williamson returns to Austin and to SXSW for a trio of shows with a full band in support of Heart Song, a 7-track 2016 release showcasing the gifted songwriter’s capacity for narrative and heart.
Tied up in knots, disquieted rumination is Williamson’s constant companion across the 40-minute songscape, arms thrown around a ghost or memory four, five, six and even seven minutes at a time, asking question after question to the sound of a guitars passing through town, headlights on.
Atmospherically anchored by guitarist RF Shannon, the melody lines stalk, strut and lilt straight out of the golden years of Chris Isaak, American Music Club or Low, offering a barometer reading on Williamson’s meditations.
Verse after delicate verse, “Say It” is a slow spooky two-step around the room with the invited –or maybe uninvited?— guest, showing listeners that the only way out is through.
One of the best songs of 2016, Williamson’s “Snake Song” builds a gathering storm, steeped in confessional and conviction, set against a cosmic western atmosphere of Brian Eno-like proportions, circa Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks.
“See I have made friends with those too jealous to let the love come in/and I’ll never talk to them again if I can talk to them/because you keep, you keep what you can,” Williamson shares, before leavening the fear: “And though everywhere you go is home … As long as I am alive, you’re not alone.”
If Williamson doesn’t move you, someone may have stolen your heart already.
Occupying often times a spare outpost punctuated by declarations, her songs comfort and console visitors in their wisdom and warmth, a place circled on the map by Will Oldham, Cat Power, Patsy Cline and others.
Heart Song’s “See You in a Dream” is the songwriter at the height of her powers, filling up a room with an uplifting long goodbye. In struggle there is beauty, in survival there is hope, possibilities, and a road to the next town.
- 3/14, 4 p.m. for Tuesday Keeled Scales Day Party @ Beerland
- 3/14, 10 p.m. for Modern Outsider official showcase @ Cheer Up Charlie’s
- 3/17, 12 a.m. @ St. David’s Bethel Hall (Official showcase)