Jessi Colter

Out of the Ashes

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Out of the Ashes is Jessi Colter's first record in over 20 years. She took a few songs she had written to Don Was and asked him what he thought. His response was that he didn't know, but if she had ten of them, they'd record. Colter delivered the songs (six of which she wrote herself, four she wrote with others, and two covers), and Was delivered on his promise. He is certainly her collaborator here, crafting a band and sound that keeps close to her outlaw country roots and yet brings out her newfound independence as an artist and as a woman. Out of the Ashes is an album about grieving and loss, yet embraces a new life that honors the past but is not trapped by it. The opening cut, "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," is a moving cover of the Charlie Gabriel-Civilla Martin gospel tune that puts God at the helm of the entire proceeding, from the place of loneliness to the rediscovery of sexuality and love in the songs that follow. The centerpiece of the record is "Out of the Rain," an older song that she wrote with Tony Joe White. White sings here, as does son Shooter Jennings and her local church's gospel choir. The big surprise is an old tape with Waylon's backing vocal on it that was spliced in here. It's a majestic track that is a classic outlaw ballad turned spiritual. One can hear the gratitude that comes from suffering in the grain of Colter's voice. She sings from experience, but also from freedom. White's duet vocal stands in contrast, slow, rumbling, and low, like a backwoods preacher getting ready to cut loose. The very next cut, "Velvet and Steel," is a rocking honky tonk number about a growing relationship that's not quite love, but well on the way, and the singer exhorts her partner not to be "a slow walking daddy" and to "take it to the limit," with Ray Herndon's backing vocal keeping it slippery and greasy. Colter's reading of Bob Dylan's "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35" is sloppy, but it offers a nice context for her stepping out of the shadows. It predicts what people might feel about the widow of one of country music's icons putting herself back in the game and offers an answer. The dirty blues boogie of "You Can Pick 'Em" offers Colter's bona fide outlaw background and makes no apologies for calling her late husband's weaknesses. The ballad "Starman," with Colter's beautiful Fender Rhodes line driving it, offers a determined "no" to a male suitor. The piano-driven ballad "The Phoenix Rises" (the cut before "Out of the Ashes") is gorgeous, with Jenny Lynn Young's cello accenting the refrains. It accepts the newness of life while asking hard questions. The set closes with Colter and Shooter's duet vocal on "Please Carry Me Home," which was previously released on Songs Inspired by the Passion of the Christ. With Lynn's cello and Colter's piano, the song places everything in a place of redemption and under the protection of Christ's love. Raw, immediate, and unlike anything one is likely to hear on country radio these days, Out of the Ashes is a great reflection of the music's tradition, from church pew to the barrom to the lovers' bedroom. Ray Kennedy's mix is nothing short of brilliant, and Was' production is lean and mean; there is no excess here. It is -- after all this time, and six previously celebrated offerings -- the record Colter has been waiting to make all her life and better than anyone ever had any right to expect.

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