Ms. JESSI COLTER: (Singing) If I give my heart to you, Are you gonna break it?
DON GONYEA, host:
Out of the Ashes is a perfect title for the new CD by Jessi Colter. It's been 20 years since her last one and in the intervening time, she cared for her husband, Waylon Jennings, as he struggled with substance abuse and diabetes, which claimed his life in 2002. Along with her collaborations with Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter had an active solo career in the '70s and early '80s. Her first husband, guitarist Duane Eddy, first noticed her talents and produced her debut single in 1961. They divorced in the late '60s and Colter met Waylon Jennings back home in Phoenix soon after.
In 1975, she had a hit with her tune, I'm Not Lisa.
Ms. COLTER: (Singing) I'm not Lisa...My name is Julie...
GONYEA: Born Mirriam Johnson, she took her name from a train-robbing ancestor, Jess Colter. Her greatest claim to fame was as part of the outlaw music movement in the 1970s with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Tom Paul Glaser. Their record, Wanted: The Outlaws, became the first country album certified platinum, selling a million copies.
Ms. COLTER and Mr. WAYLON JENNINGS: (Singing) You can't see the tears are real, I'm crying. We can't go on together with suspicious lives...
GONYEA: Jessi Colter's new CD features collaborations with her son, Shooter Jennings, Tony Joe White, and a cut that she recorded with her husband, Waylon Jennings, before he died. It was produced by Don Was, who encouraged Colter to go back into the studio.
Ms. COLTER: Don Was and I met up for coffee and I said, Don, I'm writing some things, I'm going to show you what I'm writing, I'm not sure what they are, where they go, or anything like that, but would you like to hear it? And he said yes, so I played one for him, it's on this album, You Took Me By Surprise. And he says, give me ten of those and we'll record.
Ms. COLTER: (Singing) I wasn't looking till I looked in your eyes, oh, you took me by surprise.
Ms. COLTER: Well, I went on to write 22 before we decided which ones, but every time I went over to show him another song or two I'd written, he just flipped. I was into it, and he picked up on it.
GONYEA: I understand there is a story behind the first song on the album. It's not a song you wrote, it's the old spiritual, His Eye Is On The Sparrow.
Ms. COLTER: (Singing) Why should I be discouraged...
Ms. COLTER: Don had said, let's put something on the record that you're, I mean, let's just start with this session with something you're not going to record, so I just began with His Eye Is On The Sparrow, because it's been a song I've sung for years, just keeping my voice, you know, in good shape, and Waylon had loved that song, my mother had loved that song, and it was a very easy one to just sit down and sing, and Don just says, we're keeping that, you know.
GONYEA: So it was a little like a vocal warm-up for just kind of, just something...
Ms. COLTER: Yeah!
GONYEA:...to break the ice?
Ms. COLTER: Right, exactly.
Ms. COLTER: (Singing) When Jesus gives my portion, My constant friend is He...
GONYEA: There's one song here that really deals with what it's like to decide that it's finally time to emerge from the grief of having lost your husband and partner of so many years. It's the song The Phoenix Rises.
Ms. COLTER: Yes. Being in Arizona, it's one of the most incredibly beautiful states in the nation and I spent a weekend with my family at Lees Ferry at the foot of the Glen Canyon Dam. The Colorado River is emerald green, the copper slate cliffs, I mean, they are so beautiful, and the sky, you can touch it. And that image was very strong in me.
Ms. COLTER: (Singing) Emerald-green river, speak quietly, and the black nights bring stars in my eyes. Out of the ashes, the phoenix rises...
Ms. COLTER: And so, I united my determination to follow the path I'm to follow with nature. Therefore that song came together.
GONYEA: And the lyrics talk about that initial weariness about, about moving forward. The first line in the song is, New beginnings are so hard to find.
Ms. COLTER: Yeah, they're very hard to find, and they are mountains to climb and you have to determine to live when you have been part of another person half of your life, you must decide to live. That's what I counsel people who are going, I've always had a great sense of life and great desire for life and never had any thoughts of taking my own life, that would be a mortal and a great sin. But I've found that you do have to consciously and verbally say, I choose to live, because the grief will pull you into quicksand that you can't get out of.
Ms. COLTER: (Singing) Are you gonna take it, if I give my life to you, are you gonna take it and break it into a million crystals?
GONYEA: You know, when I was going over the materials just to prepare to talk to you, I listened to a lot of your older solo work and I listened to the duets with Waylon, and while I thought this album is very much a Jessi Colter record, that your relationship with Waylon is such a big part of you that it really runs through this whole disc.
Ms. COLTER: Ohhh...
GONYEA: And on the one song we get to hear Waylon sing.
Ms. COLTER: Right. And it was great.
GONYEA: Talk about that.
Ms. COLTER: Several people, I've noticed, have misread this cut as something we put together. I want to make it clear, this was a live cut, part of an album that he cut on me, a spiritual, kind of Southern rock gospel album, which will someday come out. I've got Johnny Cash on it and a number of people. And we cut it in the studio with Tony Joe, myself and Waylon, but Waylon just did a velvet, ohh, what an incredible vocal he did on this.
Mr. WAYLON JENNINGS and JESSI COLTER: (Singing) It took your sweet love, Sweet love, to bring me out of the cave, I believe that I can make it now, I can make it, yeah, I feel I belong, Out of the rain, Out of the rain.
GONYEA: But the last song on the disc really does seem to be looking ahead at the end of this, this journey that you take us over the course of these, these 12 songs. It's a song that has a gospel feel and it's a song that was co-written by yourself and your son, Shooter.
Ms. COLTER: Yes.
Mr. SHOOTER JENNINGS (Singing): Living so carelessly, so easy to do, But now that I'm in pain, oh, I'm running to you.
GONYEA: You grew up the daughter of a Pentecostal preacher. You played piano in church at age 11. And the sound of the song that ends the album, I mean it does feel like a gospel song. It has this very spiritual uplift to it.
Ms. COLTER: Absolutely. Because there is times in life that there is nothing that will satisfy except our maker, and if we don't reach out to Him and cry for mercy, because we're going to, we are bent in the wrong direction and we're going most likely take the wrong road naturally. So if we don't look for guidance from God, the pain is going to be too great to bear, and so, you know, it's just the way out.
GONYEA: It's called Please Carry Me Home.
Ms. COLTER: Right.
Mr. SHOOTER JENNINGS and Ms. JESSI COLTER: (Singing) The temptation is over, You carry me home.
GONYEA: Jessi Colter, thanks for joining us today.
Ms. COLTER: Thank you.
(Soundbite of You Carry Me Home)
GONYEA: Jessi Colter joined us from the studios of member station KJZZ in Phoenix. You can hear Jessi's new music and some of her past hits, as well as an extended interview, at our Web site, npr.org.
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Liane Hansen returns next week. I'm Don Gonyea.