Photo: Molly Matalon / Courtesy of Grandstand Media

Waxahatchee and Jess Williamson Meet in the Country on Plains’ Debut

Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield teams up with folk singer-songwriter Jess Williamson as the duo Plains, with the debut LP I Walked With You a Ways.

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

Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) and Jess Williamson’s I Walked With You a Ways, their first project as the country duo Plains, does everything one could hope such a collaboration would produce. It relies on the individual songwriting talents of each member but produces a sound that neither of them could have achieved on their own.

I Walked With You a Ways is not a replica of either Williamson’s or Crutchfield’s aesthetic. While both artists’ solo careers are indebted to country, they interpret the genre differently. Williamson approaches country music from more of a folk, storytelling perspective, while Crutchfield’s work is closer to alternative rock. She only recently embraced the country music she grew up with on 2020’s masterful Saint Cloud. But, teaming up, the two dive deeply into this common vocabulary and, rather than reinvent it in their own image, go for a sound that mirrors forebears like Lucinda Williams and Loretta Lynn.

As we’d expect from accomplished songwriters, each track creates a distinct universe, both lyrically and musically. Opener “Summer Sun” leans into the harmonic opportunity offered by having two strong vocalists on one album, with Williamson and Crutchfield singing together throughout. It’s a tender and sweet song, but the album drops off a cliff on the second track, “Problem With It”, which opens with Crutchfield singing alone, with an edge to her voice and a heavier beat.

“Abeline” is an easy album highlight. It features an instantly recognizable and memorable melody and chronicles the dissolution of a relationship. It demonstrates Plains’ ability to take on the challenge of country music: tell a story, do it simply, and do it in a way that is recognizable as country while distinct from everything that came before. It’s a tough needle to thread, as it’s so easy to tumble into cliché, but they get the job done.

Williamson’s talents as a storyteller are on display in “Bellafatima”, a haunted waltz laden with rich detail. While the track avoids explicit narrative direction, the mandolin and resonator guitar paint a portrait that places the characters right in the middle of a Cormac McCarthy novel. Instrumental ornamentations and interludes are a common feature on I Walked With You a Ways, a pleasant surprise on an album mainly billed as a collaboration between two talented singers.

The album closer, “I Walked With You a Ways”, could have been ripped right out of the back half of Saint Cloud. It’s a sunlit, two-verse song unafraid of leaving empty space to luxuriate and meditate in. Williamson and Crutchfield harmonize beautifully on the refrain to lay the record to bed. It’s the sound of coming to terms with the challenging and complex things in your life, something that Crutchfield had already mastered, but that is given an even greater sense of peace, with Williams added.

While I Walked With You a Ways stays in one lane and leaves the individual approaches of the two artists by the side of the road, the middle ground they carve out is charming. Plains’ debut is a well-performed collection of quality songs, the sort of record that can become a trusty companion on road trips for years.

RATING 7 / 10


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