My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Jessi Colter – ‘The Psalms’

Jessi Colter’s return to the recording studio turns out not to be a new set of her own songs, but a concept album, setting a selection of her favorite psalms to music composed by Jessi herself and her producer Lenny Kaye. A clear labor of love, I am not sure how wide its potential market is, but that is obviously not the point. The arrangements do not fit comfortably into any particular genre. The vocal tracks were cut in 2007-2008, accompanied by Jessi’s piano and Kaye’s guitars, and have now been augmented with various additional instruments. Jessi actually started composing the music spontaneously in the mid 1990s.

‘Psalm 150 Praise Ye The Lord’ opens the album with hushed, awed vocals and a sweeping, sometimes quite loud arrangement which gives a strong impression of being awed by the power of God, although it does not sound particularly joyful.

‘Psalm 75 Unto Thee’ has a gentle contemplative feel and Hammond organ backing. The soothing ‘Psalm 114 And The Mountains Skip Like Rams’ has a lengthy instrumental introduction, extending the track to over eight minutes, but then nothing about this album is conventional.

‘Psalm 99 He Is Holy’ is pensive and understated. ‘Psalm 24 Who Is The King Of Glory’ is similarly thoughtful. ‘Psalm 136 Mercy And Loving Kindness’ is more forceful and feels a little uneven.

Those of you who know your Bible will know that there are only 150 psalms in most translations. ‘Psalm 151 King David’s Last Psalm’ is based on an apocryphal psalm about David’s defeat of Goliath which is accepted as canon by the eastern Orthodox churches. It is an interesting inclusion, although the title Jessi gives it is rather odd.

‘Psalm 21 Be Thou Exalted’ has ethereally wailing backing vocals which counterpoint and almost overwhelm Jessi’s lead vocal in an Eastern way. It’s a long way from country music, but it is effective In its own way. ‘Psalm 45 My Song To A King’ also has a slight Eastern feel with a minor keyed tune, but is more accessible to western ears.

‘Psalm 73 Like A Beast’ offers a glimpse into the recording sessions, with a number of false starts and spoken sections.

‘Psalm 23 The Lord Is My Shepherd’ is of course the best known of the psalms, and to be honest I prefer some of the existing musical settings to Jessi’s, both musically and lyrically, although it is pleasant enough.

‘Psalm 72 Arise O King Of Old’, the final selection, is perhaps my favorite musically, with a very pretty melody.

This album is very hard to classify, so I shall not attempt to give it a grade. It will not be everyone’s cup of tea, and is really more of a religious aid than a listening experience, but it has much to offer those who want to hear a largely contemplative spiritual exercise, and perhaps to share in it.

One response to “Album Review: Jessi Colter – ‘The Psalms’

  1. Stano Zorin April 3, 2017 at 6:39 am

    l listened to the album and your comments about it are fair and on the mark. This music is suitable for times of pensive mood.

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