Out of the Ashes
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2006, Volume 13, #4
Written by Tracy M. Rogers
Out of the Ashes, Jessi Colterís first collection of new material in over 10 years, finds the first lady of outlaw country pondering the ins and outs of love and faith. Produced by the legendary Don Was, the album is a collection of rollicking blues boogies, hopeful gospel hymns, and minimalist pop ballads. While Colterís own compositions are, at times, hit-and-miss affairs, Out of the Ashes remains a delightful change of pace from the pretentious and superfluous fluff masquerading as country that currently burdens mainstream radio.
The three gospel tunes on Out of the Ashes are, by far, the albumís highlights. The opener His Eye Is on the Sparrow is infused with hope, and its rough-around-the-edges production supports Colterís Billie Holiday-esque articulations. Likewise, her cover of Tony Joe Whiteís Out of the Rain ó which features vocals from White, the Greater Apostolic Christ Temple Choir, and her late husband Waylon Jennings ó is an optimistic country-blues song that is imbued with the ambience of the open ponderosa. In essence, it is the only true "outlaw" selection contained on Out of the Ashes. The collectionís closer Please Carry Me Home also boasts spiritual lyrics, but this time, they are delivered with subtle flourishes of piano and cello. Performed as a duet with Colterís son Shooter Jennings, Please Carry Me Home is the track that ó with its tale of a wayward, down-and-out wretch in search of salvation ó perhaps, typifies all of the outingís gospel-tinged numbers.
The rest of Out of the Ashes centers primarily on love ó both the joy of falling into it as well as the lamentation of falling out of it. Here, the songs that she co-wrote with former McBride and the Ride guitarist Ray Herndon are the clear, standout tracks. You Can Pick íEm is a down and dirty blues boogie featuring harmonica, dobro, and slide guitar that revolves around the dissolution of an affair, while Never Got Over You is a simple folk-country selection that is performed as a duet with Herndon. The manner in which Colter employs a piano to portray a classical ambience makes The Canyon, which is about the impossibilities of a relationship when a man fails to treat a woman with respect, another highpoint. Nevertheless, itís So Many Things ó a haunting, piano-and-cello ballad ó that is, perhaps, one of Colterís best-written tunes to date. However, despite verses that are full of wisdom, The Phoenix Rises is undermined by a rather repetitive chorus, while Velvet and Steel tends to get caught within clichťs and redundancy. Starman suffers because its blues-rock verses do not match its rather chirpy, pop-rock chorus. On the other hand, Colterís rendition of Bob Dylanís Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 is a sublime moment of psychedelic twang.
Without a doubt, Out of the Ashes is Colterís comeback album, and while it isnít perfect, Don Wasí minimalist production combined with Colterís lyrical insights more than make up for the occasional miscue. Out of the Ashes is a worthwhile listen that highlights her beautiful yet tenacious voice as well as her adeptness at crafting both pop and southern-fried roots music. Ĺ
Out of the Ashes is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box