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Various Artists

The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson: All Star Concert Celebration – 2017 (Blackbird)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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A tribute record to an artist who is still active, alive and with us can be a scary proposition in any number of ways. For starters, it insinuates that his or her best days are behind them. Even worse, it hints that their days may be numbered and that the intent to honor the artist is being done to avoid it becoming a final requiem.

In this case, those scenarios could be coming close. Kris Kristofferson's been rumored to have health issues, and at age 81, there's only so much time for him left to play out in public. Yet despite what could be interpreted as otherwise dire circumstances, "The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson" is, as the full title implies, a superstar-laden celebration with celebration being the key word.

Recorded at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena on March 16, 2016, the release boasts 21 songs spread across 2 CDs, with an additional 2 included as bonus tracks on the accompanying DVD. Indeed, it's not only a wonderful overview of Kristofferson's storied career, but also an opportunity to reinterpret the material in ways that bring new energy and insight to one of the greatest songbooks in modern American music.

Its success is also due in large part to the list of artists on hand to share their admiration - Willie Nelson, Buddy Miller, Lee Ann Womack, Ryan Bingham, Darius Rucker, Emmylou Harris, and Rodney Crowell among them - but also evident in the fact that these songs still sound as vital and engaging as they did when they were written.

Happily too, unlike some tributes, the man himself isn't omitted from the mix. Kristofferson duets with Ms. Harris on "The Pilgrim: Chapter 33" and re-teams with pal Nelson for a heartfelt "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Day." And even when others are doing the interpretations - Reba McEntire on a brash version of "Me and Bobby McGee," the tender take of "Help Me Make It Through the Night" courtesy of Lady Antebellum, and Rosanne Cash's stirring version of "Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)," the honesty and integrity of the material allows Kristofferson's craft to shine front and center. Which, of course, is exactly where the music belongs.