Essential New Music: Jessi Colter’s “The Psalms”

In 2007, while ghostwriting Waylon Jennings’ bio, producer Lenny Kaye heard Jessi Colter (Mrs. Jennings), sitting at the piano singing an Old Testament hymn. She was improvising the tune, and Kaye was impressed. He hired a studio and recorded her singing 12 Psalms, accompanied only by her piano and, occasionally, himself on guitar. Over the years, he added a few more minimal tracks, supplied by studio veterans such as Al Kooper and drummer/composer Bobby Previte. “Praise Ye The Lord” opens the album on a dramatic note, with Previte’s cymbal work adding power to the ardent lyric. Kaye’s undulating guitar opens “Mercy And Loving Kindness,” played as country waltz with a slight Latin tinge. Jenni Muldaur provides subtle harmonies to support Colter’s lead, with John Jackson’s mandolin weaving in and out of vocals that tremble with consecrated emotion. The most familiar Psalm, “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” gets a taste of R&B from Kooper’s organ and Colter’s hushed vocal.

—j. poet