Singer and songwriter Jess Williamson is an artist whose music looks to the past for inspiration but is performed with an updated outlook and emotional range that gives it a thoroughly contemporary feel. Rooted in contemporary folk, Williamson’s spare and evocative melodies and poetic, deeply personal lyrics are influenced by psychedelia and the songwriters’ movement of the ’70s, as her breathy soprano voice and the blend of acoustic and electric textures in her performances put her in step with her indie folk contemporaries. Williamson’s music was at its simplest and most introspective on her 2014 debut album, Native State, while 2018′s Cosmic Wink broadened her range with fuller arrangements and more adventurous production, and 2020′s Sorceress found her subtly incorporating elements of electronic music and vintage pop.
Jess Williamson was born and raised in a suburb near Dallas, Texas, an only child whose parents enjoyed listening to blues, folk, and country music, in particular Bonnie Raitt, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, and the Judds. Williamson was still in grade school when she discovered she loved singing, and would sometimes entertain her classmates during recess with her renditions of favorite tunes. It was when Williamson moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas that her interest in music moved to the next level. She was studying photojournalism and began photographing and writing about local bands for the university’s newspaper, and was soon hosting a show on the campus radio station. After hearing Ralph White, formerly of the Bad Livers, play a solo set on the banjo at a house concert, she took up the instrument herself, and kept up with it after she relocated to New York City to do graduate work.
Williamson quit school to pursue music full-time, and formed a short-lived band in New York called Rattlesnake before returning to Austin. She started writing songs and expanded her skills to include guitar and keyboards, and in 2011 she self-released a CD-R EP, Medicine Wheel//Death Songs. Williamson launched her own Brutal Honest label to bring out her first full-length album, 2014′s Native State, initially released in a limited pressing of 300 vinyl LPs on red, white, and blue vinyl meant to resemble the Texas flag. Brutal Honest issued Williamson’s second album, Heart Song, in 2016, and as her reputation spread, she was approached by the established indie label Mexican Summer, which issued her third album, 2018′s Cosmic Wink. The record’s release coincided with Williamson leaving Austin for Los Angeles, where she took inspiration in the energy and ambience of her new hometown. 2020′s Sorceress was her most ambitious project to date, with the songs written in Los Angeles, the basic tracks recorded in New York City, and the overdubs and mixing done in Dripping Springs, Texas. ~ Mark Deming