The title of Jess Williamson’s fourth LP is Sorceress, but she means it with a wink. “Yes, there’s a little magic in my hat/ But I’m no sorceress,” she croons. It’s a couplet that reveals a lot about her approach to the album, straddling the boundary between magic and reality, between god and mundane absence. Although Williamson allows for the possibility of divine revelation, she also recognizes that overall health and a clear view of oneself tend to quiet one’s need to shake the cosmos.

Sorceress certainly feels like Williamson’s healthiest project to date: she’s traded the bittersweet, sweltering conflicts of her first two albums for a breezy and self-deprecating mode, which she began exploring on 2018’s Cosmic Wink. “Something in me softened,” goes a line on “Infinite Scroll,” and we find evidence to support this when she jokes about buying fancy eggs (“Ponies in Town”) or calls upon the triple goddess, only to realize “she wasn’t home” (“Gulf of Mexico”).

Williamson previously wondered if she was the devil’s girl, but here she turns not only to her favored forms of divination, figured as attractive yet potentially ineffective (“Should we give up on Tarot?/ Maybe it’s a waste of time”), but also Christian symbols and stories. There’s water changed to wine, ties that bind, feet wiped with perfumed hair and even a reference to hymnal standard “Be Thou Our Vision.” The chorus of lead single “Wind on Tin” caps off such considerations: “I heard god.”

If god is a smoothly arranged country-pop sound, then we too can hear the divine. A major influence is Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour, so Sorceress comes complete with ‘70s-inflected keys for easy listening and a dreamy expansiveness that’s inventive without being showy. Musgraves’ impact is clearest on “Infinite Scroll,” but Williamson does her own thing with it by adding rivulets of pretty saxophone (from the same lineage of instrument that blurped about on Bon Iver’s “45”) and lassoing the track with a slowed-down refrain. “Time did unfold like an infinite scroll,” she muses, and a sacred kind of space develops before the song picks up the beat again and keeps rollicking forward (incantation one) or unfurls further, in a great concluding sigh (incantations two and three).

Other sorts of grand ornamentation appear on songs like “Harm None” and “Love’s Not Hard to Find,” where Williamson excels at making a handful of players seem like a supersized family band. The former explodes in a chorus of “Wild love/ No money,” while the latter spreads out its component parts (piano, synths, sax, drums, guitars, bass) like so many quilts across an abundant lawn of festival grass. Still, one wishes Williamson had followed more closely on the heels of these ambitious urges that bound towards the reaches of an endless universe and then out of earshot too soon. She may not be a sorceress, but why not spend more time pursuing the reverberation of musical hex?

Sorceress ends up sounding far more familiar than it needs to, and, for some listeners, this will be part and parcel with the LP’s gentle pleasures: the chirping of cicadas and giddy-up whip noise on the title track, the bird cries of “Ponies in Town” or the bliss of drinking coffee with a favorite record described on “Love’s Not Hard to Find.” On the album’s closer, she sings, “My body’s here and aging and I’d rather be at home/ Than having this cool conversation at the Gulf of Mexico”. The lines are an endorsement of the collection’s homestead-ready delights, proffered as road signs on the trail to a happiness imperfect and transforming. But there’s more subversive magic in the day-to-day than is on display here. A key challenge for Williamson will involve expanding the gateway to that subversion for her audience without sacrificing what she convincingly presents as the devotional practice of sanity.

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