Album Review: Jess Williamson – Native State (Pop Press Pick)

jess-williamson-native-stateAustin songstress Jess Williamson has been saving up Native State for a while, and the results are rewarding. Be assured: this is not a record of pop gems; this is not an attempt to win over the listener; this is not a record for the faint of heart. Native State is something far more raw and brave, something far more primal, more native. This is an artifact of an artist at work, striving toward a vision.

Williamson’s tools—guitar and banjo—are used in styles both traditional and experimental; Williamson strums and plucks but also allows them to whisper and stutter erratically. At times they fade almost completely and we are left only with Williamson’s aching vocals. Her voice will recall contemporary Joanna Newsom and the comparisons will not be misplaced. However, listeners may also recall 70s songwriter Karen Dalton, who popped into my mind upon first listening to Williamson. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to see several other writers cite Dalton as a point of reference.

Native State begins with two of the albums strongest songs, “Blood Song” and “Native State,” which serve to construct Williamson’s stark, haunting aural palate. The former ambles slowly, brooding, nursing some mental wound. Meanwhile, the title track picks up speed at the onset before wavering through ambitious changes in pace that Williamson navigates gracefully. The song’s lyrics address the fundamental nature of existence and call attention to the obvious realities that are almost always relegated to the human subconscious.

Most of the tracks on Native State unfurl slowly, but Williamson also has the ability to surprise and impress. On “Field,” marchy snare and muted guitar plucking morphs into a sweep of strings before ultimately leaving Williamson’s voice completely isolated in the mix as she sings hauntingly. The song’s multi-tracked vocals offer intelligent attention to detail. The shortest song on the record, “Field” proves Williamson’s ability to make her point quickly and effectively and showcases the primary facets that makes Native State such a lovely gem: crisp imagery and penetrating, visceral vocals.

Native State is an achievement, and Williamson will celebrate it on Thursday January 30th at Hotel Vegas with a show that also includes performances by RF Shannon, and David Longoria as well as a DJ Set by Tiffanie Lanmon of Mirror Travel.

About author
Bryan Parker is a writer and photographer living and working in Austin, TX. He is the founder of blog Pop Press International and print journal True Sincerity and recently released his first book, a volume on Beat Happening in the 33 1/3 series.

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