“We’re standing on the edge of forever / Yeah, it’s now or never”, Jessi Colter sings on the opening track of her latest album, Edge of Forever.
Her familiar voice is a touch more sage, but still just as spirited. A guttural beat quakes beneath her resolute words as bright keys and frisky strings stain the song a hypnotic neon, once again reacquainting us with a legend.
With a career spanning decades, Colter is an icon of the highest order. She enraptured audiences with her early, pop-flecked catalog, which included such classics as the blues-tinged shuffle of 'Why You Been Gone So Long', the tearful ballad 'I’m Not Lisa', and the heartbreak hit 'What's Happened to Blue Eyes'.
She captivated fellow outliers, leading the charge of the outlaws in the 1970s alongside Willie Nelson, Tompall Glaser and her late husband, Waylon Jennings. The years since have seen her stake her claim beyond country music, finding a home in the gospel of her upbringing, while even diving into the world of children’s songs.
Today, Edge of Forever – Colter’s first full-length release in six years and the follow-up to her 2017 gospel collection, The Psalms – finds the now-80-year-old star back where she started, once again wrapped in the sound that first put her on the map and on top of the charts. But before this new album, Colter had no real plans to record again; that was until Margo Price came into the picture.
Edge of Forever quickly became a project born out of faith, a staunch belief of Price in Colter and of Colter in Price. The former knew the First Lady of Outlaw Country wasn’t done yet, and the latter saw something special in the Strays artist-turned-producer.
With Price at the helm of production, Colter, clutching fistfuls of heart-worn songs both old and new, officially entered a new musical chapter. In turn, she's reminding us of her unequaled songcraft and tough-as-nails talent. Edge of Forever is a holy-rolling romp of country and gospel, lightly coated in the desert dust of her outlaw days. Mixed by her son, Shooter Jennings, and featuring vocals from her daughter, Jenni Eddy Jennings, the album is a heartfelt portrayal of Colter, with all 10 tracks encompassing her past, present and future, reflecting her storied successes and still-evolving career.
On Edge of Forever, listeners get a glimpse at where Colter has been and get a feel for where's she going, as unearthed and revisited songs are mixed with new tunes that speak to new love and new beginnings. “Every song, every one of them means something to me” the star tells Holler over the phone, as she sits down to regal us with tales of life, love and what’s next.
With Edge of Forever, it feels like you are retracing your steps; returning to many of the touchstones of your career and to the sound that first put you on the map. What sparked this journey?
I had been writing and had several songs in my pocket, so to speak, from some years before. I went to a concert to see Margo [Price] in Phoenix. She and [her husband] Jeremy [Ivey] were there together – this was at least four to five years ago – and they were very happy that I came out. We were leaving the dressing room to go on stage because they wanted me to play with them on a couple of songs of Margo’s, and Jeremy said to me, “It'd be great if you do another album”. So, it sounded to me like maybe they had talked about it.
Then I didn't hear from them for some time. I was actually putting out my book when Margo came right off the road to help me talk about and sign books. After that, she was in Scottsdale, playing at Fort McDowell Indian Casino, which is straight across a dirt road from my street to the main street that goes by the casino. She said, “Let's just be together", so I drove my Mercedes across the way and picked her up. We spent the evening together, and she asked me to play a few songs I had. She also said, “I’d love to see you do another album".
Then, she called me one day and said, “If you come on to Nashville” – because she was near giving birth to Ramona, I think she was a month out or something – and she said, “I better do it before I have the baby.” And I said, “You know, I'll do it.” It was kind of quick and to the point. I brought my songs and she had a couple of thoughts about things that I’d previously recorded.
It's kind of a long answer to a short question. But that's what sparked the coming of this album.
You didn’t really have plans to record again before this album, right?
No, I didn't. I've worked with some great producers – Don Was, Chips Moman – so it was a different venture to work with a younger artist who doesn't have a whole lot of production in her bag yet. But, she had cut some really nice records and she thought a lot of her engineer.
Then, as we went along, I loved making the decision that Shooter [Jennings] should be the mixer, because that makes a lot of difference. So, we just worked together through it; it took a while to get things settled and then to find the right label.
That being said, was there any initial apprehension to do this album and go back into the recording studio?
Oh, yes, there was. The studio didn’t bother me, but I really didn't think I had great songs. I do know there are a couple of them that had been greatly complimented.
‘Secret Place’ was one that Jennifer [Eddy Jennings], my daughter, and I wrote. Waylon [Jennings] heard it at one point before he passed and said, “You and Jennifer have to do this”. He never said that much at all. It is a marvelous and beautifully spiritual song that actually comes from Psalms 91.
Then there were others that came along, like ‘I Wanna Be With You’ – Margo just loved that. She's a percussionist primarily, she loves bumping up things, and I just felt it was a cute little ditty.
‘Fine Wine’ was one that Margo actually inspired. She said, “We need to have a song that speaks of your current life”. That was almost four years ago; it was a single life after losing a loved one or a partner. It's a lovely song; for anyone who's lost somebody in their life, it [takes] a while before you feel good again. You never really forget it and it takes a while to get balanced.
I love how you marry country and the gospel on this album. Is that something that just happens naturally in your work or was that a conscious decision for this record?
That’s something that happens naturally … Gospel was how I was raised in church. It's a natural for me. I love the rhythm and the feel of great spiritual songs and standards. I feel them and I believe them, so it comes easy.
There's so much decoration today. It's what I call “gilding the lily”. If you have something that's good, something beautiful, you have a lily, and you want to edge it with gold? I mean, come on, the lily is enough. I feel that way about songs, doing them without a whole lot of circus. I'm very strict about that and have been all the way through.
Some of the songs touch on letting new love in (‘I Wanna Be With You’) and others deal with healing from a love lost (‘Fine Wine’). Was there a lot of letting go or moving on that had to happen in order to make this album possible?
Probably so, without even knowing it. You know, there are times in life, especially if you've been hurt or are grieving, that you really are tempted to close your door to incoming things. But the truth is, you need to learn to say yes and move forward. It's extremely, almost excruciatingly, important to move forward and not to stand still.
Looking back on your your days as an “outlaw”, is that still a badge that you wear with pride?
Well, we really didn’t. Waylon especially did not like to be titled or categorized. In that day, you didn't package artists, you didn't sing on other people's records. There were some very strict borders and boundaries.
Nashville, in those days, was a lot like old Hollywood. Old Hollywood controlled the actors and Nashville controlled the artists. You were gonna use their musicians in their studios. Waylon and Tompall [Glaser] broke out of the big studios when Tompall built a brand new studio. That's where we ended up going to cut a lot of things and that was unheard of.
It just kind of broke the neck of the old guard, so to speak, and it wasn't any big thing that was planned. It just happened … It was just one of those things that came together, it was the right time in the right place and it worked.
Over the course of your career, you’ve witnessed an extreme evolution in country. What are your thoughts on the state of country music today?
I do think there are a lot of cases that have given up the song for the show. I have disagreed with that forever.
There's a lot of really good talent out there right now. Of course, Margo is one. There's a whole lot of people who want to be, and there's a few that I think are going to last … the market is so huge now. It's “everybody can sing, everybody can be pretty and everybody can play guitar”. I don't know what to give credit to for that, but it is what it is. We'll just see what happens.
The music is it. That's what will stick with you.
If another outlaw movement were to happen, do you think that's the key – just letting the music speak?
Yeah, I think that would be. I don't know where we can go from here exactly, but I do know a lot of the young people are looking back and looking into what happened. In our day, your music was part of who you were, and so I just hope that the pendulum swings. Good things that have lasted will be repeated, and other new things will shine a brighter path.
How has Edge of Forever informed your next move?
Well, I don't know. I already have some things in the wind that I can't talk about, but one of the main things that's coming, that I'm very proud of, is a documentary by the name of They Called Us Outlaws. It'll be out in 2024. Eric Geadelmann, who is the creator, did so much research about our time. It’s why I signed on with him [as executive producer].
This documentary is extremely well done … It's a real eye-opener. I was in the middle of all this, and I learned things from this documentary.
That's the next thing that's going to happen, then there are some things after that are being worked on. We'll see what happens. We'll see how it goes.
Jessi Colter's 2023 album, Edge of Forever, is released October 27th via Appalachia Record Co.