Speaking of albums that walk (heh) the line between alt-country and indie rock, here’s the debut album from Plains, a collaboration between singer-songwriter Jess Williamson and Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield. I did not go to many live music shows in 2022, but Plains was one of them, despite being a group that has existed for barely a year. This is because there were several instances where I wanted to see Waxahatchee on her oft-delayed tour in support of one of my favorite albums of the past few years, St. Cloud. However, every time she came to town (or even a nearby city like Wilmington) I was somehow in another part of the country. Fortunately, Plains did play a few St. Cloud tracks when I saw them, and even more fortunately, the interplay between these two recently unified collaborators was a delight to witness.
The story behind Plains is that Jess Williamson and Katie Crutchfield were big fans of each other’s albums that came out in 2020, and so began collaborating on songs that would embrace a more straight-forward country sound that was always an essential element of their individual work. As two singers who seem to have a complicated relationship with their Southern roots, they certainly feel like kindred spirits, and there’s an easiness to these songs that feels like two friends putting the messiness of the outside world on pause and just singing some plaintive songs together. Their harmonies weave together breathlessly while the sounds of their backing band are precise but also have the easiness of a late Summer sunset.
Which is all to say that I Walked with You a Ways doesn’t quite match the transcendence of Waxahatchee’s recent albums (it’s a little harder for me to comment on Williamson, who’s more of a blind spot), but it’s still a cut above your average “side project”. There are a few tracks here (“Problem With It” and “Hurricane”) that capture the plaintive romanticism of St. Cloud so well that I could easily imagine them on that album. Meanwhile, Williamson’s weathered love songs absolutely show what a more recognized artist like Crutchfield saw in her, and perhaps point at a more upbeat direction than Williamson’s last album Sorceress. It all gives the album a feeling of being this nice crossroads of two artists that still have plenty of possibilities for where their careers could go, but for now, are just happy to enjoy each other’s company during this slight detour.