On 'Time Ain't Accidental,' Jess Williamson is heartbroken, but open to love
On Time Ain't Accidental, Jess Williamson's fifth studio album, the Texas-born, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter is chasing both liberation and certainty. She's said the album title comes from learning to "trust that things are working out as they're meant to," even when life isn't unfolding as she'd planned. On the record's 11 songs of vividly detailed, windswept alt-country, she's reeling from the aftermath of a breakup, stifled by the isolation of the pandemic, driving on country highways, dating in Los Angeles and finding new love in Marfa, Texas. As she proclaims on the standout track "Hunter," she's "a hunter for the real thing," swayed only by the cosmic timing of the universe.
The universe has served Williamson a series of strange turns in recent years. In early 2020, Williamson was preparing to release her fourth studio record, Sorceress, and tour the country — plans entirely upended by a global pandemic. Around the same time, her longtime romantic partner and musical collaborator left her and their shared home in Los Angeles. Traces of that heartbreak are all over Time Ain't Accidental. On "I'd Come To Your Call," the first song she wrote for the record, she begs, "Baby don't leave me." On "A Few Seasons," she mourns, "Our life and our love slowly slipped away ... There's nothing left to save."
Williamson also depicts the ways she would diminish herself in that previous relationship: "How I did accommodate and get so small," she recalls on "A Few Seasons." She's said in interviews, too, that she felt that pressure in the way she made her music. "In the past I tried to make myself seem like I wasn't trying too hard," she told The Guardian — she figured that being too bold in her music would be "grating," that her voice needed to "be sexy or breathy." Listening to Time Ain't Accidental, it's clear she's put that belief behind her. In the chorus of "Hunter," you can hear that breathy quality in Williamson's voice — but it's double-tracked with a more natural, conversational delivery that makes her sound self-assured, unshakeable. On songs like "Tobacco Two Step" or "God in Everything," there's a forceful, raw earnestness in the way she sings. And while her portrayals of sorrow are brutal, her subtle scorn burns even brighter — the work of a woman who knows that a classic Texan "bless your heart" will cut an enemy deeper than rage ever could. "You've been chasing spirits / and I'm still chasing them lights," she sings on "Chasing Spirits," before dropping a pointed rhetorical question: "Now who is a bigger mystic / and who's winning a bar fight?"
There's a sense of spaciousness on the record, afforded by Williamson's newfound perspective and production courtesy of Brad Cook (who also worked with Williamson on the record she and Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield released as Plains). The instrumentation feels considered and understated, drawing focus to Williamson's resonant voice. Williamson demoed many of these songs against an iPhone app drum machine, and in the studio, Cook encouraged her to keep it — a steadying, mechanical heartbeat alongside the album's earthy steel guitar and banjo.
Despite the heartache, Time Ain't Accidental both opens and closes with songs about new love. "Roads," the last track, is an ode to letting love come to you, rather than chasing it. "Find what's freely given," she offers, "Real love'll come to you." The song's final minutes unspool patiently as Williamson sings the chorus — "got a hurricane in my heart for you," she belts, unashamed — then turns it over to an instrumental outro, letting the saxophones have the last word, confident that she's said all she needs to say.
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