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Jess Williamson, 'Topanga Two Step'

When you change, your whole body changes with you. Your feet might even feel different inside your boots. Jess Williamson made her incandescent fifth album Time Ain't Accidental during a transitional time in her life, as a longtime romantic and creative partnership dwindled and a brief single phase gave way to a new love. That's typical fare for a singer-songwriter, but the native Texan, now splitting her time between Marfa and Los Angeles, writes from such a holistic perspective that a listener can empathize from head to toe. "Take me for a ride," she wails in this soft-rock reverie's chorus, "all tangled inside." In that phrase, set to a descending melody, she surrenders and holds back at the same time.

The song's lyrics about a casual but intense encounter follow suit: her tongue is in this new lover's mouth and the windows are down, but then they are barely holding hands. Their intimacy comes easy, but in a flash they're so far apart. It's all conjecture and desire and hesitation and "I want to, but I can't make you, man." The music has a slowed-down "Boys of Summer" quality: it's one long swoon propelled by synthesizers so unobtrusive they recall the whispering electronic system powering a Tesla, the kind of car this fancy new paramour of Williamson's might drive. But her voice, as poignant as Linda Ronstadt's singing a Karla Bonoff song, dwells in the loneliness that even the most exciting casual encounter can produce. As she leaves this one behind, recognizing that in this dance she's only a stranger's projection, Williamson repossesses herself. "Is it a one time dream, or a country queen that you take me for?" she sings, turning her heel in those best boots of hers.

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Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.