Review by DAN MACINTOSH
Superficial people will scoff at your love of Kris Kristofferson. ‘He can’t even sing,’ they’ll mock. Of course, you already know this. And you could make the case that he never could sing. But why waste time on people without depth to appreciate Kristofferson’s genius?
“Well I woke up Sunday morning/With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt,”
begins “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.”
“And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad / So I had one more for dessert.”
Opening song lines just don’t get any better than that, friends. His old friend Willie Nelson reprises this gem with Kristofferson for the album.
The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson captures an arena full of music fans, including many of Nashville’s best, singing their favorite Kristofferson songs. All the performances are enjoyable, but Eric Church’s pre-song introduction to “To Beat the Devil” is unforgettable. It was the next song on Church’s car stereo CD player, right after he was turned down by a record company and advised to leave Nashville and go back home. Like Kristofferson’s original, Church speaks/sings it emotionally. It’s the right fit for Church’s style, and it’s easy to see how much Kristofferson influenced Church’s songwriting. The song is a fable about a struggling songwriter who meets the devil, not at the crossroads, but at a smoky, beery Nashville tavern. Tragically, it’s soul-selling details are true for many a struggling Nashville songwriter.
Reba sings “Me and Bobby McGee,” a huge hit for Janis Joplin, and there is a bevy of fine female performances throughout this two-disc set. Jennifer Nettles sings the hell out of “Worth Fighting For,” and Lee Ann Womack adds extra tenderness to “Nobody Wins.” There’s nothing sweeter than Alison Krauss, who combines her twee with Jamey Johnson’s twang on “For the Good Times.” Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell sing “Chase the Feeling,” a song about the destructiveness of addiction, as they recently did on one of their duet albums. Emmylou Harris, that A-list duet partner, then partners with Kris for “The Pilgrim: Chapter 33.”
Most of these are Kristofferson covers, although one titled “Kristofferson” was written by Jon Randall and Jessi Alexander, who sing it with Larry Gatlin’s help. On the slightly unusual side, Dierks Bentley displays his bluegrass credentials with “From the Bottle to The Bottom,” which he sings with The Travelin’ McCourys.
Some of us even like Kristofferson’s gruffy voice. He sings like a wise old man dropping wisdom on us, and we drink it up like desperate rummies. But even if he never sang a note, Kristofferson would still be an all time great. And these lovingly rendered songs are proof of that.
You can catch Kristofferson at The Canyon in Agoura Hills on Jan. 13
The Life and Songs of Kris Kristofferson
Blackbird Production Partners