Photo: Molly Matalon / Courtesy of Grandstand Media

Katie Crutchfield and Jess Williamson Merge As Plains for ‘I Walked With You a Ways’

Plains’ I Walked With You a Ways features two Southern-born singer-songwriters with impressive track records: Waxahatchee and Jess Williamson.

I Walked With You a Ways
Anti- Records
14 October 2022

The group Plains feature two Southern-born singer-songwriters with impressive track records: Alabama-born Katie Crutchfield and Texas native Jess Williamson. The two artists left their childhood homes and now live in other parts of the country. Crutchfield renamed herself Waxahatchee after moving in tribute to her Cotton State home. However, she titled her most recent solo record, Saint Cloud, after a city in Minnesota. Williamson took off from the Lone Star state to the City of Angels in search of new inspiration. She called her newest release Sorceress in reference to her otherworldly place in the universe. In terms of sales and critical reception, these albums were the most successful of their careers. They are coming off professional highs.

The two talented musicians met a few years ago (via Kevin Morby) and made vague plans to collaborate. The meeting finally happened, and the resulting album, I Walked With You a Ways, plays to these artists’ strengths as writers and performers. Both artists contributed a handful of songs to the project. The record includes one cover, a stirring rendition of Hoyt Van Tanner’s enigmatic “Bellafatima”.

Crutchfield and Williamson sing with strong voices, often in unison, without overpowering each other. Their vocals retain their distinctive tones even when the two croon in harmony. Drummer Spencer Tweedy and multi-instrumentalist Phil Cook provided most of the backing instrumentation along with Brad Cook (who also produced the record) and a few other players assisting primarily on acoustic instruments (mandolin, fiddle, percussion, and such) on various cuts. This quiet provides I Walked With You a Ways with an intimate vibe that befits the personal lyrics. The style can best be described as folk-pop country that comes off as old-fashioned without sounding retro.

Brad Cook recorded the album in Durham, North Carolina, using just a few takes to keep things fresh. The ten songs come off as confessional as they sing in the first person. Several of the tracks concern romantic relationships that don’t quite work out. These are not simple tunes about leaving and moving on as much as the two embrace the mix of feelings when things don’t happen the way one wants or expects. For example, the title track refers to a love affair that has to end but leaves both people better off than they would have been if they hadn’t gotten together. Just because it didn’t last doesn’t mean their liaison was a mistake.

Or as they sing on “Summer Sun”, “It hurts to be leaving, but I know that staying ain’t right.” The narrators/protagonists of the songs aren’t going to settle for less than a fulfilling connection. Their stalwart vocals make them seem tough as they compare themselves to “a cannonball” and menacingly ask elsewhere if one has “a problem with it”. They may be angry, but their outrage comes from an honest place. Life is not “Easy” they proclaim, but they lighten the pain by calling the other person in their life “baby”. You never know what might happen when love comes calling.

I Walked With You a Ways is less than 37 minutes long, with all ten songs in the two- to three-minute range. Crutchfield and Williamson pack a lot in a short time through their inventive songwriting and expressive voices. The two singer-songwriters often stun the listener with their poetic directness. “Love is patient; love is kind / Love’ll give you a real hard time / A cigarette in a potted plant / Empty bottles, open hands.” Their open hearts may leave them vulnerable, but when all is said and done, they will keep on keeping on with no regrets.

RATING 8 / 10