on November 16, 2009
The poet prince writes again
New Straits Times Press
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
BY ERROL DE CRUZ
American music icon Kris Kristofferson is back with his 15th solo album, an acoustic recording about his friends, love and tenderness. ERROL DE CRUZ writes.
HE'S won more than a dozen awards since his debut in 1971 with Me and Bobby McGee. He was described by the late Johnny Cash as a visionary. Above all that, he has the undisputed reputation of having changed the landscape of country music songwriting.
With hits like Help Me Make It Through The Night, For The Good Times, Sunday Morning Coming Down, Me and Bobby McGee, From The Bottle To The Bottom and Why Me, Lord? he inspired Nashville's writers, some of whom called him the most refreshing thing since Hank Williams.
Kris Kristofferson, the poet prince of country music, is back with his 15th solo album, aptly entitled Closer To The Bone, and like poets down the annals of history, he writes of what he sees and experiences, or as someone described, recently, "songs built on emotional bedrock", when the composer was honoured with an Icon Award from performance rights organisation BMI.
His vast experience before he eloped to Nashville to become a songwriter included stints as a college athlete, Golden Gloves boxer, member of Phi Beta Kappa, Rhodes scholar, US Army captain and helicopter pilot.
Once there, he went from janitor to award-winning actor, composer and undisputed star.
In his early albums -- Spooky Lady's Sideshow, The Silver-Tongued Devil And I, Border Lord and Who's To Bless And Who's To Blame? he recorded his life's story, most significantly, the booze and mind-altering drugs, the chances he took, the dues he'd paid and the women he loved and left.
Then came the protester and political activist who hounded his government for interfering in the affairs of South American nations like Nicaragua on several albums, including Repossessed and Third World Warrior.
It then seemed like he took a hiatus and it wasn't until 2006 that he finally resurfaced and reclaimed his throne.
Thanks to his skillful penmanship, a host of highly-reputed crooners, groovers and rockers turned to the Kristofferson trove for their hits.
His debut album alone brewed hits for an eclectic list, including Roger Miller and Janis Joplin (Me and Bobby McGee), Sammi Smith and Gladys Knight (Help Me Make It Through The Night) and Johnny Cash (Sunday Morning Coming Down).
The plethora of love songs and catchy ditties from his 15 solo outings were recorded by the who's who of music -- Frank Sinatra, Bobby Bare, Roger Whittaker, Elvis Presley, Rita Coolidge, Val Doonican and even Millie Jackson who recorded his If You Don't Like Hank Williams (You Can Kiss My Ass), replacing Williams' name with hers!
Kristofferson wrote, sang, spoke and reeked of a life he had lived. When his discoverer and country star Johnny Cash wanted to sing his Sunday Morning, Coming Down on TV, he was instructed to remove a line -- ... wishing, Lord, that I was stoned ... -- but Cash stood his ground, saying: "If that's the way Kris wrote it, that's how I'm singing it".
That cover garnered Cash the Country Music Association Award for Song of the Year in 1970.
Kristofferson's poetry attracted many music stars and also resulted in at least three tribute albums, the first -- The Pilgrim -- by country stars like Emmylou Harris, Randy Scruggs, Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, Shooter Jennings, Patty Griffin, Jessi Colter and Willie Nelson.
Another -- Nothing Left To Lose -- was recorded by some rather young garage, soul and punk bands like the Handsome Family, Souled American, Califone, Calexico, Court And Spark, Milk Chopper, Radar Brothers, Granfaloon Bus, Virgil Shaw, Killer Views Band and Grandaddy.
A third, again by indie bands, was entitled Don't Let The Bastards Get You Down and featured the talents of interpreters like Polara, Mother Hips, Hannah Marcus, Mark Kozelek, John Doe, Oranger and more.
It was a respectful acknowledgement of the essence of Kristofferson's songs and just goes to show how eclectic his writing has been and the influences he's had on three generations of recording artistes across a slew of genres.
The third stage in his evolution came with This Old Road which reflected crime and other social ills and crusaded understanding and forgiveness.
Kristofferson's latest studio outing, at age 73, is not just closer, but downright stripped to the bone, and the silver-tongued devil, is completely unplugged, his gravelly vocals pickled in lyrical brine, a heady cocktail of sawdust and honey.
The album, produced by Don Was (who plays bass), stars drummer Jim Keltner, Rami Jaffee on keyboards, and guitarist Stephen Bruton, who passed away shortly after finishing this album.
Closer To The Bone is dedicated to Bruton's memory and is kept burning with Kristofferon's poetry all over again and this time around, he's writing about his friends, about love and tenderness.
Cool shadows fall through the moonlight, soft as the breeze through your hair, and the smile on face when you're sleeping, is the answer to anyone's prayer comes through on From Here To Forever dedicated to his kids and so is:
Darling, if you need a reason for living,
Do it for love and for me.
Kristofferson's most touching, heart-breaking lines on this album are in Hall Of Angels, a song he wrote for the late Eddie Rabbitt who had lost his son Timmy to biliary atresia (a liver ailment) in 1985. Rabbitt, incidentally, passed away from lung cancer, several years later.
In this one, Kristofferson, writes as if from a parallel universe:
I dreamed of a young band of angels that shone like the stars from above,
For each held a bright burning candle, except for the angel that I loved.
Then I asked why their candles were burning and why that hers wasn't the same,
She said: Oh Daddy, each time that I try to light it, your tears just keeping drowning the flame.
Good Morning, John is probably the only song Kristofferson was ever commissioned to write. As he said in a recent interview with Aquarium Drunkard, it was Johnny Cash's wife June who'd asked him to write a song when Cash came out of rehabilitation.
"It was the first time I was asked to write," Kristofferson had said, bemusedly. "I usually write when it hits me."
Good Morning, John, written for The Highwaymen (Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Cash and Kristofferson), was never recorded by the legendary quartet.
Kristofferson's affair with bare acoustic recording began in 1999, when he released The Austin Sessions, stark naked versions of his biggest and earliest hits, with vocal accompaniment from such stars as Jackson Browne, Steve Earle, Matraca Berg, Vince Gill, Marc Cohn, Alison Krauss, Catie Curtis and Mark Knopfler.
He followed that acoustic trek with This Old Road in 2006, his first album of originals in 11 years.
Now, three years later, he's back with this 12-tracker which he's currently touring with dates confirmed right into February.
Over the last 40 years, he's toured with several outfits, first with sessionists like Billy Swan, Donnie Fritts, Terry Paul and Jerry Kennedy, followed by the Borderlords, then the legendary The Highwaymen and now, he's come full circle, playing to packed houses.
There's something in all that because they haven't come to hear instrumental masterpieces. They come to hear the man and his guitar, maybe a mournful harmonica, every once in a while and they know he's right. Everything is sweeter, closer to the bone.
Closer to the bone
Tracks: Closer To The Bone, From Here To Forever, Holy Woman, Starlight And Stone, Sister Sinead, Hall Of The Angels, Love Don't Live Here Anymore, Good Morning John, Tell Me One More Time, Let The Walls Come Down, The Wonder, I Hate Your Ugly Face (bonus track).
The Deluxe Edition includes a bonus CD with This Old Road, The Final Attraction, Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down, The Silver Tongued Devil and I, For The Good Times, A Moment Of Forever, Don't Let The Bastards Get You Down and Why Me? recorded live at The Olympia Theatre in Dublin, Ireland on March 21, last year and fold-out poster.
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