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Kris Kristofferson - 'Feeling Mortal'

Released on KK Records, Jan. 29, 2013

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating

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Kris Kristofferson - Feeling Mortal

Kris Kristofferson - Feeling Mortal

© KK Records 2013
Right out of the gate, Kris Kristofferson wallops you with the album's title - Feeling Mortal - and you know this disc is not messing around. Looking back over his 43-year career, however, it's not surprising Kristofferson, of all people, might spend his 76th year writing an album which grapples head-on with mortality. Sure, he's peppered his life's work with largely drawn-out metaphors in the shape of story songs, but he's also directed his thoughts and feelings to confront life's muddiest hallways. He's never shied from wandering those corridors, opening doors, digging in with his feet, scraping up the muck and building something beautiful. Feeling Mortal, then, is simply carrying on the tradition.

What Growing Old Can Do

Life is a song for the dying to sing
it's got to have feeling to mean anything

These lines come three songs into Feeling Mortal, as Kristofferson sings "Bread for the Body" (purchase/download). Even though they seem to be buried a little bit under the surface, they're like a seed planted in spring, and they spend the rest of the album coming true.

Mortality is a lofty topic for a collection of songs, but if anyone's up for the task, it's Kris Kristofferson. This is a guy who, when he was barely more than 30 years old, summed it all up with the line, "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." At 76, he grapples with life's promises and defeats through the lens of the aging man in the mirror. That the whole disc starts out with Kristofferson gazing in the mirror at the old man he's become, is no small coincidence. The older we get, the more baggage and responsibilities, the less time we have for self-reflection, the easier it is for time to surprise us with its age and mortality.

Kristofferson, meanwhile, meets the rumination with everything from defiance ("You Don't Tell Me What to Do") to schoolboy flirtation ("The One You Chose"). Of course, there's a good old-fashioned story-song about a ship on the seas - "Castaways" (purchase/download) - thrown in for good measure. It doesn't take much digging to find the metaphor in that one, but Kristofferson doesn't seem worried about verging on cliche, so the song never crosses that line.

A Master at Work

One of the best things about this album is its determination to complete a full song cycle. From staring in the mirror and considering one's life on the title song to Kristofferson's thoughtful, heartfelt tribute to his old friend Ramblin' Jack on the final track (purchase/download), this is a disc about a life examined. Not in the navel-gazing sense that so many younger folks are attempting as they toy with the notion of picking up Kristofferson's torch. No, this is a man tearing his navel away and going straight for the guts. He's taking his own advice from 40 years ago, making it evident that his life and career has been built on the notion that "nothing's worth nothing if it ain't free."

It may seem odd to return to one of his most popular old songs when discussing his newest piece of work, but the album in question here seems to recognize the holistic nature of the music itself. Kristofferson doesn't monkey around here with saccharine poetry or any attempt to remain of the moment. Sure, it starts with seeing things as they are, but then his vision pans out to see where "things as they are" fit into the bigger picture.

Sooner or later I'll be leaving / I'm a winner either way, he sings on the title track, as though to say it doesn't matter the when of anything. Only that it ever once was.

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