Of course there are songs that look to the past. Some, like "Castaway" reflect moments when he realized he was flirting with disaster by sailing close to the edge: "'Cause like a ship without a rudder/I'm just drifting with the tide/And each day I'm drawing closer to the brink/Just a speck upon the waters/Of an ocean deep and wide/I won't even make a ripple when I sink". Others are almost defiant in their lack of apology for who and what he's been. The title of "You Don't Tell Me What to Do" should be a giveaway, but for all those a bit slow on the uptake Kristofferson spells it out for them with the lyrics: "So I sing my own songs/And I drink when I'm thirsty/And I will go on/Making music, and whisky/And love for as long/As the spirit inside me/Says you don't tell me what to do".
Even those songs which in the hands of others might descend into what I call hangover Christianity – repentance after a night's debauchery – are saved from a fate worse than death by both the sparse production values and Kristofferson's vocal delivery. Never what you'd be tempted to call flowery, his voice sounds even more lived in and care worn then ever. However, any deficiencies in his vocals are more than made up for his capacity to deliver each word of every song as if it were being wrung directly from his soul. No matter how hard you try you'll never be able to make him sound pretty or smooth out his rough edges. All of which pretty much guarantees a purity and honesty to his music that others can only dream of obtaining.
Musicians like Mark Goldenberg on guitar, Greg Leisz on pedal steel, Matt Rollins on keyboards, Sara Watkins on vocals and violin, Sean Hurley on bass and Aaron Sterling on drums, play in support of Kristofferson and his voice. They are not so much a backing band as the framework or the backdrop for his songs. Playing underneath, around and beside, but never over the top of his voice, they provide accents which fill the songs out without taking away any of the rough hewn honesty that gives them their power. You have to listen carefully in order to even hear Watkins' harmonies on some songs. However, this is a great change from background singers overwhelming a lead vocalist.