Time Ain’t Accidental: Jess Williamson’s Album Release Aligns With Two Nights at the Continental Club
Former Austinite talks Texas roots and fantastic new LP
By Rachel Rascoe,
10:55AM, Mon. Jun. 5, 2023
Jess Williamson last visited the Continental Club to see Dale Watson on her 30th birthday. Now 35, the Austin-launched, L.A.- and Marfa-based songwriter lands an ideal musical homecoming. Williamson will play two nights at the Continental: June 9 with Jesse Woods, marking the release of her fantastic fifth record Time Ain’t Accidental, and June 10 with Scott Ballew. Both openers are old friends from her days as a UT-Austin photojournalism student turned folk singer.
Having blossomed her early banjo sound into a deeply felt wash of country and pop with razor-sharp writing, Williamson also plays a free solo set at Waterloo Records on Sunday, June 11, at 5pm.
“When I lived in Austin, I loved it so much,” she says. “I really didn't want to leave, I just wanted a career. Because I wasn't able to find the sort of footing with my music that I was hoping to, there was a little bit of resentment I had towards Austin of just being like, ‘I want to stay here so bad, but you're not helping me out Austin. We need to quit the day job.’”
After working as a substitute teacher at Austin High School, Williamson left her home state for Los Angeles in 2016, leading up to the release of Cosmic Wink (2018) and Sorceress (2020) on the record label Mexican Summer. During the pandemic, the singer’s new Californian status showed in a collaborative track with Hands Habits and long walks with labelmate Weyes Blood, who praised Williamson’s “not downtrodden, but hopeful” stance in a March Rolling Stone profile. Most prominently, she launched the project Plains with Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield, leading to a 2022 record and touring of the duo’s bold embrace of Southern roots.
“I learned that oftentimes less is more, and keeping it simple and direct and truthful is stronger than trying to be complicated or flowery or esoteric with lyrics,” says Williamson on recording Plains’ I Walked With You a Ways with Brad Cook, who also produced her upcoming LP.
“I was working with new people, Katie and Brad, who encouraged parts of my songwriting that I didn't know were good. It just gave me confidence to trust myself, and that really bled over into this record.”
Emphasizing the singer’s expanded genre bona fides, Williamson was joined onstage by Margo Price and Erin Rae for John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” at a Nashville tour stop last month. An immersively contemporary use of country elements, Time Ain’t Accidental mixes drum machines and the artist’s recognizably piercing voice, which she describes as somewhere between Joanna Newsom and Dolly Parton. Pinpointing her range, she says Cat Power and Bonnie Raitt are touchpoints, too.
Among an array of Texas scenes on the new record, Williamson aims her poignant gaze on Austin in “God in Everything,” specifically referencing some ‘til 4am action at her favorite local brasserie. In her sweetly savage intonation, she sings: “The boys back home all worship Dylan and Townes/ And they’re at Justine’s cause it’s after hours.”
“Well, that song was written in a moment where I felt like I had to really let go of Austin as a place that I could return to, like ‘I have to be in L.A. and I need to put roots here and look at what's right in front of me, instead of looking over my shoulder,’” she says.
“I went through that whole process of thinking I was totally letting Austin go, and now I miss it so much. I can't wait to get there and play these shows, and I'm even wondering if it won't be too much longer until I live there again, because I really miss it.”
Trained on a potential Austin return, Williamson crafts a travelog of her past four years on Time Ain’t Accidental. The record works from a breakup with a longtime musical collaborator (“Are my love songs lies now that the love is gone?”) to the happenstance of a new love in Marfa (“So I don’t check the weather in Texas no more/ I just close my eyes”). She now splits her time between L.A. and the West Texas town, which has long been a frequent stop on the singer’s cosmic journeying.
“Time has a way of healing us and giving us a fresh perspective on situations,” she summarizes. “Really, this album is such a vulnerable personal document of the last couple of years for me, and it ends with the song ‘Roads,’ because I wanted to end on a high note, present day. It’s celebratory, and it's exciting, and it's peaceful. It’s that image of driving off down an endless highway expanse with blue skies ahead, and there's no certainties, nobody knows how the story ends, but there’s a lot of hope.”