Jess Williamson – Native State
The comparisons between Joanna Newsom and Jess Williamson are inevitable. Two female indie singers with aereated vocals. One with a harp. The other a banjo. And there are times on Native State when the comparison is fair. There’s a cadence to Jess Williamson’s singing that on occasions is reminiscent of Ys-period Joanna Newsom. When on the title track she sings, ‘I wish you well, I wish you peace, I wish you realise some day, You’re beautiful and you always need someone’, you could imagine Monkey saying exactly the same thing to Bear in exactly the same way. But in truth the resemblances are only fleeting. Perhaps a better comparison is with another female indie artist also with sometimes aereated vocals, Anais Mitchell. Whereas Ys-period Joanna Newsome is full of whimsy, Jess Williamson, like Anais Mitchell, is more at home with human-sounding stories. Their songs seem populated by real people. When she repeats ‘And your hair all up in braids now’, you feel likes she’s addressing someone directly. But comparisons can be invidious. The great thing about Native State is that Jess Williamson has carved out her own sound. It’s a very spare sound. The vocals. The banjo. And only subtle touches of other instrumentation here and there. But still just enough to fill out the songs and keep things interesting. And the aereated vocals give the songs a real personality. A strange one at times, to be sure. We hear ‘mayer-ther’ for mother. ‘Dayer-zens’ for dozens. Maybe it’s a Texan thing. But it doesn’t matter, because they always sound authentic. The trick for Jess Williamson is now to move on. Just like Joanna Newsom and Anais Mitchell. And the orchestral backing, understated at the moment, hints at where to go. The chances are it could be an genuinely beautiful place.