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Like the “White Bird” on her new album Cosmic Wink, Jess Williamson is also avian, though of a different feather. While the bird in Williamson’s lyrics sits caged with clipped wings, the artist is a reborn phoenix from a nest in the west. Native State, her debut album, with its taut, spindly tales, felt like Williamson was singing from a roadside motel at 3 am on an empty desert highway. It was a reflective place in the mind of a Texan who spent time living in New York City; the songs were developed and mature, emotionally steeped to a darkened brew from a profound experience elsewhere. Williamson’s sophomore album Heart Song marked a dramatic departure from Native State, bristling beyond the confines of folk to question the comforts of home. On Cosmic Wink, her third album and first for Mexican Summer, Williamson emerges with another self part of an even wider consciousness. A self that bears wise evidence of past lives, but also feels new and unfamiliar, if at times from a different artist entirely.
A reference to the Jungian idea of synchronicity, or “meaningful coincidences,” Cosmic Wink is as much a reflection on inspired companionship as it is a rebirth. She fell deeply in love, and then her life was uprooted; Williamson left Texas for California, leaving behind the roadworn verses of her previous albums for brighter, bolder songwriting. It was this love and new location that inspired Cosmic Wink. Both musically and lyrically, the exploding postmodern spirit of California – and Los Angeles in particular – is infused in the DNA of Cosmic Wink. The Byrds-ian jangle of album opener “I See The White” airbrushes halos around the brain with an immortal pop hook. Williamson’s contralto sheds the delicate vulnerability of Heart Song for an assuredness, intoxicating in its deep sermon. When Williamson asks her listener to “tell me everything you know about consciousness,” it’s an invitation down a two lane blacktop, both vessels heading the same direction. The brightest moment of Cosmic Wink arrives on the broken wings of “White Bird,” Williamson’s dualistic testament of curiosity for an unknown coast with experience driving some uncertainty. “Be kind to me / This is not my city / I don’t know / What I miss anymore” she sings. But this isn’t the voice of someone irreversibly rattled, it’s a voice that knows the more the tides turn, the more one learns.
Despite a generally warmer climate, Cosmic Wink doesn’t abandon the brooding moods of Heart Song entirely. Those moments are acknowledged on new terms though, utilizing instrumental textures and shapes to create curious depth. The Rhodes-soaked “Wild Rain” begins with a ghostly air until a swell of synths gives way like the heavens parting. Williamson’s voice emerges from the clouds promising that she will “I will treasure your patience / from you I learned what it means to make a family.” Concluding Cosmic Wink with “Love On the Piano,” Williamson’s new musical and lyrical mind declares “Love is my name now / Love, Darlin” over a revolving acoustic guitar line and lightly pressed upright piano notes. Vulnerability can feel something less vulnerable when love – true, deep love – creates a latticework to hang the frame of our humanity, which in many ways is the message underlying the entire album. Cosmic Wink was recorded and mixed in Dripping Springs, Texas by Dan Duszynski.