A streak of warm-hearted defiance courses through Kristofferson’s 28th album.
Paul Whitelaw 2013
Long-haired, liberal, and influenced as much by Bob Dylan as Hank Williams, Kris Kristofferson typified a new breed of country artist when he emerged as a successful singer-songwriter in the early-70s.
The author of such immortal Nashville standards as Help Me Make It Through the Night and Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down, this rugged poet also enjoyed a concurrent career as a film actor, which for many years threatened to overshadow his musical endeavours.
Thankfully, a sympathetic partnership with producer Don Was reignited his creative fortunes with 2006's well-received "comeback" album This Old Road, and its equally impressive follow-up Closer to the Bone. Their hard-won themes are carried over into Feeling Mortal, which is apparently the final part of the Was/Kristofferson trilogy.
And what a curtain call. If this fine album turns out to be the 76-year-old Kristofferson's final release, then few could've asked for a more fitting valedictory statement.
Recorded in just three days – although much of the material was written years ago – the sound is sparse, spontaneous, warm and intimate, with Kristofferson accompanied by his own acoustic guitar and a few unobtrusive side-players. Never blessed with much vocal range, his baritone croon is even more cracked with age.
Yet he sings with such soulful conviction, fitting the wizened candour of these strong, memorable songs like a battered leather glove.
Redolent in God-fearing spirit of the twilight recordings Johnny Cash made with producer Rick Rubin, Kristofferson's undisguised frailties provide an added depth and poignancy.
And yet despite its preoccupation with death, Feeling Mortal isn't, remarkably, a morbid album. A streak of warm-hearted defiance courses through the self-explanatory likes of You Don't Tell Me What to Do, with its ornery narrator doggedly brewing whisky and music for as long as his body will allow.
Elsewhere, the swaying celebration of Bread for the Body finds Kristofferson declaring: “Life is a song for the dying to sing / It's got to have feeling to mean anything.”
If any artist has earned the right to deliver his own eulogy, it's this indomitable country legend.