People always seem surprised when they find out I like Kris Kristofferson's music. Maybe it's the fact I don't just like the songs he writes, but also like the way he sings them. Sure his voice sounds like its being pulled through a whisky-soaked rasp that's been allowed to sit in a smoke-filled room for a couple of days. There's also the fact the words he sings always sound like they had to fight their way out of his chest in order to be heard. It's like he's only grudgingly willing to share these secrets of his heart and soul with us.
However, that's what makes his songs so powerful. There's nothing casual about either the emotions behind his songs or the manner in which he delivers them. As befitting a Rhodes Scholar (a scholarship awarded to North American university students who mix excellence in academics and athletics that allows them to attend Oxford University in England) there is thought behind everything he does. Not once have I ever heard him cross the line from genuine emotion to cheap sentimentality in order to manipulate a reaction from his listeners. The direct result of this can only be careful consideration of both his lyrics and the music accompanying them. While you can check out nearly any album he's ever released, his most recent, Feeling Mortal, the first on his own label KK Records, will give you all the proof you need.
There have been times in the past when Kristofferson's music has fallen victim to the machinations of some overzealous Hollywood or Nashville producer. While they have never quite succeeded in submerging his rough honesty beneath their saccharine coatings of strings and massed backing singers, they came close. Thankfully he started working with producer Don Was 17 years ago and the results of that arrangement have been some of Kristofferson's cleanest and most honest work since the early days of "Me and Bobby McGee", "Sunday Morning Coming Down" and "The Pilgrim".
On Feeling Mortal Kristofferson has assembled a collection of 10 songs reflecting the theme suggested by the title. Yet this isn't some attempt at atonement or a plea for forgiveness on the part of a repenting reprobate. It's just an honest self examination of who he is, where he's been and what he sees when he looks in the mirror. Take the title song's last verse, "Soon or later I'll be leaving/I'm a winner either way/For the laughter and the loving/That I'm living with today". The past might hold sorrows and regrets for mistakes he made, but he's not dwelling on them. Who knows what the future holds, but the present is still something to be celebrated and be grateful for.