Picture Kris Kristofferson in your mind, and he's likely not a young man. There's probably a salt-and-pepper beard and a wizened look on a lined face that's seen its share of tavern punches. But it's hard to wrap one's head around the concept of the actor/songwriter today at 80. Slowing down has never been in the Texas troubadour's blood, though. And so we come to this 2016 double-album recording of a frantic, mostly-live recording session in Austin from 20214.
The hits show up in droves, the arrangements stay simple, and Kristofferson is even in good humor. But a voice works off lean muscle, and his body's instrument has atrophied. You might find the trembling that's replaced confidence inspiring - he's still out there trying. For sure, it does lend added poignancy to songs about loneliness and loss, like the moving "It No Longer Matters What I Do." Plus, there's a lot more going on here than just simple singing. It's a songwriter's showcase.
Hardly anyone else in memory (maybe Jimmy Webb?) has written such a stock of all-time great songs that became signatures for others - how can the author possibly reclaim "Me and Bobby McGee" from Janis Joplin or "Sunday Morning Coming Down" from Johnny Cash? He can't. But Kristofferson does make them more intimate affairs that bring the listener closer to the act of their creation. When you delve deeper into the back catalog, like the astonishing bio of a junkie "Billy Dee" or the semi-autobiographical "To Beat the Devil," it's clear why he's won so many lifetime awards. Kristofferson has such a keen eye and clearly synthesizes small moments with big truths all in one telling. That makes songs like "The Law Is For the Protection of the People" feel like a commentary on today's news, even though it's nearly 50 years old.
When you read highlights from the man's life - Rhodes Scholar, army captain, friend to most everyone famous in Hollywood and Nashville - you understand the experience that's filled his songwriting well of knowledge. Kristofferson has watered each of these songs from that well, and this as close as most of us will ever get to a house concert from a living legend.