In an interview with OffBeat’s Laura DeFazio, Shawn Williams refers to her music as “alt-rocka country-billy serial killer blues.” As far as genre signifiers go, it pretty well sums up her sound. She wears her country and rockabilly influences—Lucinda (and Hank) Williams, Patsy Cline, Elvis Presley (whom she honors with her all-female tribute band, Pelvis Breastlies)—on her sleeve, accenting her soulful voice with tasteful flourishes of mournful pedal-steel guitar or jangling honky-tonk piano. She showed them off last year on Shadow, an impressively mature debut record.
It’s her less obvious inspirations, such as Billie Holiday and shoegaze icon Mazzy Star, that set her apart from the pack on her recently released sophomore album, Motel Livin’. These manifest more subtly, often emerging on slower tracks, where Williams has room to wander gloomily about her desert landscapes, her voice warping into blue note territory but never devolving into the cutesy warbling of her country predecessors.
Williams’s past career in radio has given her a keen ear for production, pacing and track selection. She opens the album on a disarmingly quiet note with “Leave,” a slow-burning breakup anthem that bleeds seamlessly into “Touch, Love, ’n’ Rub,” a much more upbeat ode to one-night stands on the road. Windblown chimes usher in “Desert Baby,” a gorgeous, meandering love song and immediate album standout. It clocks in at a whopping 7:34, but is immediately followed by the short, cabaret-style, keyboard-pounding “Chop.” And so on. By the time the dust settles on the closing, title track (and the hidden bonus track gift-wrapped into the end of it), you’ll be left wondering how your last hour went by so quickly.
The “serial killer blues” bit of Williams’s self-proclaimed sound is the hardest to find in her music. Unlike her fellow local, country-adjacent act Guts Club, whose folk melodies and quiet arrangements thinly veil lyrics full of violence and viscera, Williams mostly writes about different types of romance. But deep below these love songs, there is a very long fuse burning very slowly, possibly with something very sinister at the end. We’ll just have to wait for another album to find out what it is.