My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Jessi Colter – ‘A Country Star Is Born’

51sgd4uaavl-_ss500Whatever optimist gave this album its title jumped the gun just a little, for although it marks the official beginning of Jessi Colter’s recording career (not counting two prior singles issued under her birth name), it would be another five years before her commercial breakthrough that propelled her to stardom.  Released in 1970, A Country Star Is Born was her first and only solo album for RCA.  She was presumably signed to the label because her husband Waylon Jennings was already on its roster, but the album’s  lack of commercial success suggests to me that she perhaps was not a huge priority for RCA.

The album was produced by Chet Atkins and Waylon Jennings, and upon the first listening, one might be a bit confused as to why it didn’t perform better in the marketplace.   In order to understand why, one has to bear in mind the way it would have been perceived back in 1970.   The album follows the standard practice of the day of using one or two hit singles to drive sales and padding it with covers of recent hits for other artists and perhaps some original songs by the artist and/or producer.   In this case, the lead (and non-charting) single was one of Jessi’s original compositions “I Ain’t The One”, performed as a duet with Waylon.    The second single was “Cry Softly”, another Colter original that also failed to chart.  Its melody is somewhat similar to “I’m Not Lisa”, which would become her breakthrough career record a few years later.  It’s a decent song that might have enjoyed some success if a more established artist had released it.

Filling out the rest of the album are three more songs Jessi wrote — all credited to her real name Miriam Eddy:  the uptempo “If She’s Where You Like Livin'”, the mid tempo “Don’t Let Him Go”, and the bluesy “It’s All Over Now”, none of which were strong enough to be considered for release to radio.  Along with these originals are two excellent songs written by Harlan Howard, which might have had hit potential had they not been relatively recent releases for other artists.  “Too Many Rivers” had been a Top 20 pop hit for Brenda Lee in 1965 and “He Called Me Baby” had been a minor posthumous hit for Patsy Cline in 1964.  The latter would go on to be recorded by many other artists and would eventually (with a pronoun change) become a big hit for Charlie Rich in 1974.   The album’s best track “It’s Not Easy” had previously been recorded by its composer Frankie Miller.  “Healing Hands of Time” was a non-charting Willie Nelson single from 1965.

I enjoyed all of the album’s songs, but I get the distinct impression that RCA only made a half-hearted effort to promote it.  Pairing her up with Waylon for her first release was a reasonable strategy.  It’s surprising that “I Ain’t The One” didn’t at least enter the charts.  A great song it is not, but his star power at the time was sufficient that it should have garnered some attention from radio.  When it failed, it was almost inevitable that the next single would also tank, since Jessi Colter was still an unknown entity.  Why they didn’t have more songs to try and promote her is somewhat puzzling.

RCA released two more solo singles in 1971 and 1972  (not on this album) — including “I Don’t Want To Be a One Night Stand” which would become Reba McEntire’s debut single a few years later.  There were also two minor hit duets with Waylon (“Suspicious Minds” and “Under Your Spell Again”), but it would be five years and a label change later before the world learned who Jessi Colter was.

A Country Star Is Born is available for download and streaming and is worth a listen.

Grade: B+

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5 responses to “Album Review: Jessi Colter – ‘A Country Star Is Born’

  1. Luckyoldsun March 4, 2017 at 12:05 am

    The title “A Country Star is Born” appears to be a take-off on–or an allusion to “A Star is Born.” Although the movie of that name starring Barbra Streisand (and Kris Kristofferson) that would be most familiar today only came out in 1976 (several years after the Jessi Colter album), it was actually a remake of a 1954 film, starring Judy Garland–And the Judy Garland movie was a remake of an even-earlier movie from the 1930’s starring Janet Gaynor. All three movies were titled “A Star is Born.” So that’s a phrase that was pretty well-known in 20th-Century U.S.A.!

    • Ken March 4, 2017 at 1:10 pm

      When you have absolutely nothing substantive to contribute to Razor’s excellent post regarding Jessi’s music I suppose that superficially musing about album title with no actual facts to support your argument is the best you can come up with. Well done!

      • Luckyoldsun March 4, 2017 at 2:19 pm

        Could be you need your meds adjusted.

        • Ken March 4, 2017 at 5:52 pm

          Actually I was going to suggest that to you. You have reached the point where you are now repeating things that you have previously posted without realizing it. Not to mention your constant need to post comments even when you obviously have no familiarity with that artist or their recordings.

  2. Ken March 4, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    The fundamental reason that Jessi failed to hit on RCA Victor in the early 70’s is two-fold. Her breathy and somewhat unusual voice was probably more suited to pop music than what was generally expected of mainstream female country artists during that era. Because her unique vocal style did not immediately appeal to the ears of most country programmers she could not easily get airplay. I do give RCA credit for attempting something different than just cloning Loretta or Tammy. Another reason her efforts came up short was due to the extensive RCA Victor artist roster that was jam-packed with more acts than they could reasonably and effectively promote. RCA Victor (and to be fair most other labels) threw a lot of stuff out there and anything that seemed to show promise they pursued. If it did not click they just moved on to the next single or to another new act. They had lots of tonnage.

    Oddly the A side of Jessi’s first RCA single was not included on this LP. “Take A Message To Laura” was designated as the “PLUG” side of the 1969 promotional 45 with “I Ain’t The One” on the flip. Perhaps RCA switched gears at some point to promote “I Ain’t The One” but I do not recall that. Seems to me that if that had that occurred Waylon’s participation would likely at least have allowed the song to chart. “I Ain’t The One” was re-released the following year as the B side of the Waylon & Jessi duet single “Suspicious Minds” and was again resurrected in 1976 for the B side of the remixed single version of “Suspicious Minds” included on the “Wanted! The Outlaws” compilation. RCA did re-issue “Take A Message To Laura” [b/w He Called Me Baby] as a 1975 single in the wake of ‘I’m Not Lisa” but once again the song again failed to chart. Other than the Waylon duets Jessi’s only solo RCA chart appearance was in late 1972. “I Don’t Want To Be A One Night Stand” spent one week on the Cashbox survey at #75.

    “That’s The Chance I’ll Have To Take” is one of my favorite tracks. That song was Waylon’s RCA single debut in 1965 and has a cool arrangement that includes a sitar – an instrument very popular in late 60’s counter-culture pop songs. The radio-friendly two minute song has a more mainstream sound that might have performed better as a single. Mickey Newbury’s “Why You Been Gone So Long” is another great track although not a single candidate as it had recently charted for Johnny Darrell. “If She’s Where You Like Livin'” is a solid country song in the style of some of Loretta’s feisty tunes of that era and wound up on the B side of the “Cry Softly” single.

    As Razor clearly pointed out Jessi had some pretty good music on this album that was largely overlooked at the time. After she hit on Capitol I had hoped that RCA Victor would mine their vaults to re-release this album with bonus non-LP singles like her excellent & unique version of Hank Snow’s “Golden Rocket” that includes a guest appearance by Hank. Maybe one day a CD will be compiled with all of Jessi’s great RCA sides.

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