Even in his youngest days when he was starting out, Kris Kristofferson always managed to sound older than his age. His gruff vocals and his tattered tales, told from the perspective of world-weary souls travelling desolate roads in search of redemption, made songs such as The Pilgrim, Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down, Help Me Make It Through The Night
and, yes, Me and Bobby McGee
testament to those all the worse for the wear.
It's not surprising then, at the ripe old age of 76, Kristofferson is in a time of his life where he can reflect on choices and circumstance. Or that his new album, "Feeling Mortal" should be endowed with a title that acknowledges that dogged determination. Even so, it's not enough for Kristofferson to gently glide into his twilight years; songs like Feeling Mortal, Stairway to the Bottom, Castaway and My Hear Was The Last One To Know retain the same sense of darkness and despair that's haunted him his entire career. His voice is even craggier than before, his narratives still gritty and gruff, suggesting that for all the battered circumstance, there's a vast expanse of unsettled terrain still to be excised and explored.
Nevertheless, the real concern here is not that Kristofferson is retracing old regrets; after all, he wouldn't be the writer he is if not for those twilight recollections and murky observations. Rather it's the fact that the majority of these melodies just seems so standard, be it a plucked ramble or a steel guitar sway. Never mind that a couple of these songs were written some 40 or more years ago; it seems he's mostly opted for well-trod tears-in-your-beer confessionals that fit a standard template.
With the exception of Mama Stewart a tear-jerker of a tale about an older woman who provided a maternal bond, there's little here that hasn't been sung before. Take note that it's worth the time it takes to read the lyrics, because it's with words only that this timeless troubadour actually excels.