A generally sparkling compilation from one of country music's most mercurial artists. Colter emerged in the 60s on the arm of Duane Eddy and later married "outlaw" Waylon Jennings. But it wasn't until her single "I'm Not Lisa" became a million-selling country/pop smash in 1975 that she became a superstar. Colter's style was always "confessional" music -- very observant and poetic, and usually about the travails of loving a difficult man. Yet her lyrics were incisive and defiant at times, her delivery vulnerable or aggressive, depending upon her message.
For at least a couple of years in the mid-seventies, Colter was one of country music's biggest selling artists -- male or female. Her first three Capitol albums (I'm Jessi Colter, Jessi, and Diamond in the Rough) were monster sellers on both country and pop lists, the first going gold and the other two packing a big country/pop sales whallop, which was rare for a female country artist in the day. Moreover, her inclusion on the Platinum-selling 1976 compilation "Wanted: The Outlaws" sealed her place as the only female outlaw in the business. Colter deserved the title; her songwriting was unlike anyone else's -- truly original, plaintive, and earthy. Songs from all of these albums are featured on this new compilation, many of them being chart hits for Jessi, including "What's Happened To Blue Eyes," "You Ain't Never Been Loved" and "It's Morning and I Still Love You."
A fourth Capitol alubm in 1977, 'Mirriam,' was a stark and Gospel-tinged concept record. Despite the radical departure in theme, it sold well based upon the strength of her superstardom, but her artistry really nosedived after this elegant offerimg. Luckily, two songs from 'Mirriam' are included on this compilation, one featuring the back-up vox of Roy Orbison and the other an exotic, Far-Eastern-style chant called "New Wine." That song alone is worth the price of the disc.
Colter's 1978 album, 'That's The Way A Cowboy Rocks and Rolls' was atrocious -- an obvious, crass attempt by the label to package Colter into a [beauty] who sang what she was told to sing, rather than what she wanted to write. The result was a lackluster, cheap hodgepodge wherein even Jessi didn't sound convinced of her voice or direction. Of the few good tracks on the record, the best by far was a fine cover of Neil Young's "Hold Back the Tears" (which is included here) but her cover of Tony Joe White's title song was forced and demeaning. The Jessi Colter who wrote and sang masterpieces like 1976's "Here I Am" was simply not believable singing lines about cowboys "drivin' pick-up trucks and dippin' Skoal." Though this album was a chart performer, it severely compromised Colter's artitic integrity in a big way, and even her snappy, back-on-track 1981 album "Ridin' Shotgun' (her last studio album for Capitol) could not bring her back from the misfire. It's a mystery why Capitol did not include on this new disc any of the truly fine songs from that record (like "Wings of My Victory"), or even lisence Colter's legendary contributions to the 'White Mansions' concept album with Eric Clapton, Jennings, et al.
They did, however, snag a very moribund duet from Colter's REAL 1981 comeback: her half-million selling 'Leather and Lace' album with Jennings. "Leather and Lace" spawned a couple of hits, including the Top Ten "Wild Side of Life/Honky Tonk Angels" track featured on this disc. Though it's listenable, Jennings and Colter both sound tired and worn-out from the rigors of being alleged "outlaws" and they bring nothing new or original to the song other than the novelty of it being a medley performance. It's wise to recall that it was at this time that Jennings' drug problems began to escalate to levels that seriously eroded his health and wellbeing, and the country "outlaw" fad was fading as fast as disco.
After 'Leather and Lace,' Jessi Colter effectively disappeared from the scene, except to tour occasionally with Waylon as a supportive prop and record sporadically. A gorgeous 1984 Chips Moman-produced LP -- (Roch n Roll Lullabye)-- stiffed big time due to lousy distribution. A cute kids album followed, and more of Colter's role as wife and nurturer of the declining Waylon. When Jennings tragically succumbed to the consequences of his illnesses in 2003, Colter laid him lovingly to rest and deservedly is beginning to rev-up one of the "best-keep-secret legends" in the business -- her own.
This compilation is an excellent start; almost all her chart hits are here (yes, the unforgettable 'I'm Not Lisa') and her first four "stardom" albums (all of them classics) are somewhat well-represented. A few years ago I saw a striking video duet between Colter and Jenning entitled "Deep in the West." It was recorded in the late 90s and Colter had never sounded or looked better. The news that she is now recording a brand new album with legendary producer Don Was is a thrill. This is one of the greatest female singer-songwriters of the genre, in her day, and she must not be overlooked or forgotten. This compilation will introduce the listener to that lyrical originality and that one-of-a-kind expressive, emotional voice. Testimonies in the liner notes from George Jones and Kris Kristofferson only confirm what many have known for years -- Colter is the Real Thing and an American Treasure.