In the introduction to the well-written, thought-provoking liner notes to this Kris Kristofferson tribute, the compilers insist that it "wasn't made for preaching to the choir. This one's for the skeptics." And if that's a statement of intent, this alternative-leaning collection can be declared a success. It's a postmodern take on Kristofferson by contemporary, young(ish) artists, and may well appeal to those whose ears are more attuned to the lo-fi, slo-core end of indie sounds than to country. For that same reason, however, hardcore Kristofferson fans may find it a little esoteric and inaccessible. Even for those whose loyalties lean a little each way, it's an ambitious project, which (mostly) succeeds on its own terms.
This compilation restricts itself to the songs written by Kristofferson in Nashville between 1968-73, considered by many to be his golden age; the exception being "Shipwrecked In The Eighties," tackled here by Crooked Jades in raucous, down-home style. The liner notes make a convincing case for Kristofferson as one of the great writers of the 20th century, noting the complexities and dualities inherent in his work. Kristofferson has been a "walking contradiction" in himself, having reinvented himself many times over as outlaw, womaniser, dreamer, free thinker, philosopher, poet and, of course, storyteller.
Given all those facets to Kristofferson's life and music, the diversity of artists represented here seems appropriate. If the album lets itself down, it's in the sequencing, for there's a lack of diversity and colour at times, a sameness of pace (slow) and instrumentation (sparse). Several of the best tracks appear at the end, such as Richard Buckner's freewheeling "Lovin' Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)" and Grandaddy's fuzzed-out rampage through "Best Of All Possible Worlds."
An earlier highlight comes from Calexico's Joey Burns, who, with his conspiratorial vocals and continental-style accompaniment from Marianne Dissard, is a master of mystery storytelling; hence "Casey's Last Ride" is done great justice. Burns' former bandmate from Giant Sand, Howe Gelb, does likewise with a live recording of "The Pilgrim (Chapter 33)," replete with confessional, spoken-word asides.
Other standouts include the opening track, a majestic take on "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" by the Handsome Family, the funeral-choir loveliness of the Radar Brothers doing "Help Me Make It Through The Night," and an otherworldly reading of "Border Lord" by Califone. (Incidental)