Ten Things I Love About Kris Kristofferson


Particularly, his new album, Closer to the Bone.

1. Any discussion of this record has to start with the voice: Kristofferson wasn’t initially heralded as a particularly great, nuanced singer– his skills as a songwriter have usually taken center stage– but it’s a role he’s grown into. He’s 73 now, and his voice is filled with holes and nooks that didn’t used to be there; he’s filled them, though, with world-weariness, but also joy. Every word he sings here is pregnant with the profound stuff of real life– the kind of thing that a singer only gets from living and singing for a long time.

2. The production. Kristofferson is credited as one of the forefathers of the Outlaw Movement, a back-to-basics trend that recoiled against the spit and shine of Nashville’s music scene. I’m not sure that this album is an “outlaw” album per se, but it does hold to the movement’s fundamental tenets. Producer Don Was keeps things intimate: Some guitar and mandolin, a harmonica here and there, sparse percussion and unadorned bass. These songs sound less like what plays on country radio today than they do folk songs, cowboy songs, or campfire songs.

3. This is an album that lays out its own philosophy in the first song, and sticks to it. The title track is a mantra that sets the tone for everything that follows– one of rugged simplicity and emotional openness:

Coming from the heartbeat
Nothing but the truth now
Everything is sweeter
Closer to the bone

4. Death is very much a concern of this album– there’s a remembrance of Johnny Cash, a memorial to a lost child, brief mentions of the singer’s own advancing years– but it’s hardly a downer. Part of that is because Kristofferson is such a compassionate writer– his tributes are specific, heartfelt, and uplifting– but it’s also because of his sly sense of humor. I love this knowing assessment of his own career:

Ain’t it kinda funny
Ain’t it just the way, though
Ain’t you getting better
Running out of time

I suspect that many Kristofferson fans will nod in agreement: He is getting better.

5. His tribute to Sinead O’Connor seems, at first, a bit random– unless, that is, you know that the two artists have enjoyed a long friendship, that Kristofferson has been a mentor to O’Connor and was there to offer her encouragement and a shoulder to cry on in the wake of the disastrous incidents that followed O’Connor’s political statements on Saturday Night Live. His song for her is not only an affectionate tribute, but an homage to dangerous truth-telling:

And maybe she’s crazy and maybe she ain’t
But so were Picasso and so were the saints

6. Speaking of tributes: His song for the lost child of Eddie Rabbit is another heartbreaker– but in its sincere spiritual awareness, it’s ultimately life-affirming, too:

Sure as I loved her, I lost her
Sure as I wanted to die
Then I had a dream or a vision
Of wonder that opened my eyes

7.  He pens an uncommonly sweet love song– to his kids. “From Here to Forever” is part nursery rhyme, part lullaby, and it’s both honest about the pains of living and encouraging in its affirmation of the father’s faithfulness:

Darlin’ take all the time that you’re given
Be all you know you can be
And if you need a reason for living
Do it for love and for me

8. He writes about politics and social issues without seeming preachy: “Let the Walls Come Down” is an appeal for social justice dressed up as a spiritual folk song:

And if you’re looking for a miracle now
Buddy, you better be one

9. The last song, “The Wonder,” makes good on the promise of the first: It is, indeed, cut close to the bone, sincere and straightforward but rich in wisdom. It’s a song from someone who’s lived a lot but has every intention to keep going:

I swear to be thankful the rest of my days
And worthy, whatever I do
And for the chance I was given to live and believe
In the love and the wonder of you

10. The late Stephen Bruton contributes light, graceful touches throughout the album– including a haunting harmony vocal on the title cut. [My apologies for initially stating that Bob Dylan sings this part; this rumor has spread through many reviews and blogs, but apparently it was, in fact, Bruton.]


8 responses to “Ten Things I Love About Kris Kristofferson”

  1. BR says :

    This is a beautiful review. But that is NOT Bob Dylan – it is Stephen Bruton singing harmony in the backround. Please check the facts for yourself on New West Record’s website.
    Thank you.

  2. Gavin Breeden says :

    11. He was in Martin Scorsese’s “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.”

  3. Josh Hurst says :

    BR, you may be correct… but I don’t see anything to that effect on the NW site, and both All Music and MetaCritic credit the vocal in “Closer to the Bone” to Bob Dylan. Regardless, Stephen Bruton’s contributions to the album are essential, and beautiful.

    • BR says :

      Please check New West Record’s homepage and scroll down their news – the statement is clearly posted that it’s Stephen Bruton singing – and not Bob Dylan – on Kristofferson’s new album, “Closer to the Bone”. Stephen sings the backround vocals. Otherwise, your review is quite wonderful. But as New West Records’ website clearly states – Stephen Bruton needs to receive full credit for backround vocals. New West Records website is asking bloggers and newspapers to run corrections.
      Thanks again.

  4. Josh Hurst says :

    12. He was also in The Jacket– but, er, maybe that one doesn’t quite make the list.

  5. Lisa says :

    Wow, thanks, you got it! Love on! ;)

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