Time Ain’t Accidental is a road-trip record full of open space and vivid detail. Listening to its 11 radiant country songs, you’ll encounter a singalong to Townes Van Zandt, “cigarettes and cheap incense,” and a poolside rendezvous at a Marfa hotel. The scenery is placid, but Los Angeles-based songwriter Jess Williamson is restless, eyes always trained on the horizon. She’s the one in the driver’s seat, but she’s also the one asking Are we there yet? As the world hums along behind her, she’s in the foreground dancing like a pop star: the impatient, impulsive center of an agonizingly slow-moving universe.

It’s been three years since Williamson’s last album, 2020’s arid, windswept Sorceress, and you can hear, from the opening moments of Time Ain’t Accidental, how her approach has changed. Her breathy, cool-girl intonation has been replaced by a voice that’s clarion and rich with emotion. The native Texan twang she showed off on I Walked With You a Ways, her 2022 collaboration with Waxahatchee as Plains, is on full display. Williamson’s wayward sense of articulation allows for some unexpected rhymes; the more outré pairs—“Raymond Carver” and “pool bar,” “ate me raw” and “Shangri-La”—give her writing a sense of unpredictability that’s mirrored in the album’s unusual arrangements.

Produced by indie go-to Brad CookTime Ain’t Accidental doesn’t sound like many recent indie-country records. The warm woodwinds that served as gilding on Sorceress are this record’s foundation, along with the click of an iPhone drum machine. It’s an open, breezy record, often pared back to just saxophone, a nonchalant beat, and Williamson’s voice. It’s a surprisingly versatile palette, allowing for tense, heartbroken anger (“Something’s in the Way”) as well as blushing romantic reveries such as the title track and “Topanga Two Step.” Williamson, singing with a new strength and soulfulness, is a magnetic presence. On “A Few Seasons,” she wonders how she learned to “accommodate and get so small,” and the way she sings—forcefully, suffused with an earnest, beseeching quality—feels like a counter to that realization.

Time Ain’t Accidental is a breakup record, but its observations are far removed from the immediate heat of a breakup. Instead, Williamson vacillates between wry analysis and guileless curiosity. Some lines are steeped in bitter irony—“I was admired for my patience and my strength/I am well known for being so okay,” she sings on “A Few Seasons,” dredging up the platitudes friends offer after a split—while others treat everyday life with wide-eyed excitement. On “Hunter,” she writes about the perils of app-based dating and turns mundane swipes into an odyssey: “I want a mirror not a piece of glass/We went a hundred down the highway/I’ve been known to move a little fast/I’m a hunter for the real thing.” Love is a life-or-death matter in Williamson’s world, even if modern romance can feel bureaucratic and kind of bullshit.

Even though many of the characters are heartbroken or wracked with anxiety, Williamson navigates modern life using timeless tropes that lend Time Ain’t Accidental an immense, gratifying confidence. She sings lucidly about the agony of being in someone else’s gravitational pull, and for every new age-y pearl of insight (“Shatter the lamp/The light remains”), there’s another that sounds like it was gleaned from the depths of a dive bar jukebox. On the tense “Something’s in the Way,” a desolate ballad that swells into frantic ragtime, she slips easily into one of country’s most enduring archetypes, the dutiful woman holding out for a fickle lover: “A man like you knows how to make me wait.”

Heartbreak isn’t Williamson’s only mode. She has a way of turning quick flirtations and flashes of new romance into low-key love songs that sound casual but burn bright. On “Topanga Two Step,” a delicate pop song with transportive imagery and needling hooks, Williamson teases a mercurial love interest, daring him to make a move. The production is understated, but Williamson’s presence is like a hurricane: “Baby, god damn,” she exclaims, stretching the words out into a rich, euphoric hook. Coming from her, it sounds monumental—an expression of frustration and ecstasy in one. It may not be the “radical kind of love” that Williamson seeks throughout the record, but it’s enough fuel to keep her on the road.

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Jess Williamson: Time Ain’t Accidental