File this one under, “Well It’s About Damned Time.” With its eighteen cuts, this collection arrives, unmistakably, as one of the more important and plain necessary releases of the year. But for the handful of Colter cuts on the famous/infamous RCA Wanted: The Outlaws collection, scattered contributions to old saga concept albums (White Mansions), and her kids’ records, virtually nothing by this tough and touching singer and songwriter has been available for listeners since a collection half this size was put out in 1995.
Jessi Colter is, of course, the woman who was strong enough to sing and live and hold her own with Waylon Jennings, to keep him together for a very long time — and the most significant female talent to arise from the outlaw/progressive country outbreak of the 1970s. She’s rarely performed over the past decade or so, beyond harmony backup for some of her late husband’s shows and an appearance at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nashville last fall that packed the place just on the rumor it would happen.
Hearing these cuts anew, most of them culled from her half-dozen Capitol albums of 1975-81, it’s striking how much this voice stood alone. Not only could Colter deliver sensitive, vulnerable ballads with a stripped-down, tradition-informed, country-songbird tone not far removed from that of Emmylou Harris, Kimmie Rhodes or even Iris DeMent, but sometimes she lets loose with a forceful growl akin to the wilder Tanya Tucker. A lady and an outlaw indeed. Throughout, there’s a unique, affecting (and sexy) tremolo in her voice more like the warble of French sparrow Edith Piaf than a Patsy Cline cry.
Colter’s songs work every modern twang rhythm between those poles — from Gentry swampy (“You Ain’t Ever Been Loved”), to the drama and beat associated more with Waylon (“Storms Never Last”, “I Belong To Him”). As a songwriter, she’s often singular. The justly-famed “I’m Not Lisa” (string-laden, by the way; not “outlaw”) combines a delicate, perfectly haunting melody with the story of a woman who, hearing her man call her by his ex’s name, chooses to abide it, in a perfect blend of hurt and strength, so convincingly that no “Stand By Your Man” controversy ever ensued.
This well-chosen, very strong collection rounds itself out by bringing in several tracks from the early ’70s, when she was still known as Miriam Eddy (transitioning from being the former Mrs. Duane Eddy). For good measure, it adds three of Jessi & Waylon’s muscular, strength-for-strength matched duets (including “Suspicious Minds” and “Under Your Spell Again”). And there should be few dry eyes and a few cold ones hoisted among country fans encountering her quite personal and specific “You Hung The Moon (Didn’t You Waylon?)”.