In celebration of his 80th birthday (June 22, 2016) Kris Kristofferson will be releasing the two-CD set The Cedar Creek Sessions on his own KK label. Recorded live over three days in 2014 at the Cedar Creek Studios in Texas (June 23, 24, and 25) the two discs are as close to a retrospective of his prolific songwriting career as can be crammed into a package of this size.
A proper recounting of his storied songwriting career would require far more than the 25 songs recorded during these three days. However, unlike most greatest hits recordings this collection isn’t simply songs culled from past albums. These are brand new re-interpretations of the songs Kristofferson felt like playing over the course of the session.
Now, the man has never had what one would call dulcet tones. Those of you who can remember the early days of his career will know he was born with a voice that sounded like it had been soaked in a whisky barrel and then smoked by playing a thousand bars. Age has not mellowed his voice any, but neither has it made it any worse for wear. Sure Kristofferson has a little bit more trouble hitting notes at either end of the scale, but that only gives the songs a new depth of character.
The sense of history his voice now personifies brings a new perspective to the songs. Instead of them sounding like they’re about a particular moment in time, they now feel as if they were written in relation to a person’s entire life. A tune like “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, arguably one of his most famous, is no longer the Sunday morning repentance of a drunk, but the wistfulness of a person looking back through years and wondering what a simpler life would have been like.
Those who are familiar with Kristofferson’s vast catalogue will be delighted to hear gems that aren’t played as often as they should. Chief among those (as far as I’m concerned) are “The Law is for the Protection of the People”, “Billy Dee”, and “To Beat The Devil”. The latter is particularly great as it closes the second disc. The lines “And you can still hear me singin’ to the people who don’t listen/To the things that I am sayin’, prayin’ someone’s gonna hear” are about as good an summation of any songwriter’s career as you’ll find. The fact that he wrote it about himself, and it is the last song in this collection, makes it even more powerful in this context.
Kristofferson is joined for this recording by a collection of great players who not only fill in the sound but support his voice perfectly. Shawn Camp on guitar, Kevin Smith on bass, Michael Ramos on keyboard, and Mike Meadows on drums add great accompaniment without overshadowing Kristofferson’s uniqueness. There’s also a special treat when he’s joined by Sheryl Crow in singing the duet he wrote for Johnny Cash and June Carter, “The Loving Gift” (a song Kristofferson never recorded).
Willie Nelson, no mean songwriter himself, said “There’s no better songwriter alive than Kris Kristofferson. Everything he writes is a standard, and we’re just going to have to live with that”. While some might debate Kristofferson’s status as the best songwriter alive, there can be no debating the fact he’s one of the great singer-songwriters of our times. The Cedar Creek Sessions not only serves to remind us of the depth of his abilities, but serves notice that he’s not done yet. Which is some of the best news the music world could receive about now.