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Ear to the Ground: Jess Williamson’s “Snake Song”

Texas songstress Jess Williamson invokes early Cat Power and This Mortal Coil with a new track haunted by the ghosts of the desert Southwest.

By the time you’ve digested Jess Williamson’s early-2014 debut, Native State—moodily droning electrics mixed in with slowly plucked banjos and impassioned vocal flourishes that vacillate between cooing, purring, tense restraint, and soulful emotiveness—you’ve effectively answered the question, “What if Cat Power had been signed to 4AD in the early ’90s?”

Now Williamson has released “Snake Song,” part of a split 7" single with RF Shannon—fellow Austinites who she recently toured the Southwest with. It seems the vast desertscapes observed between city gigs played a big role in the vibe, too, because the four-minute track stretches out with the desolate elegance of Ry Cooder’s 1984 soundtrack for Paris Texas.

But by tapping RF Shannon as her backing band, Williamson ensures that the soundscapes on “Snake Song” are more pastoral than the darkened corners of 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell’s trio of This Mortal Coil records. With smoldering electric leads that owe more to Calexico than Simon Raymonde, Williamson instead comes off sounding like an Americana apparition rather than a post-goth vestige.