Album review: Kris Kristofferson may be ‘Feeling Mortal’ but he still has superb songs to sing

Kris Kristofferson
“Feeling Mortal”
KK Records

Many songwriters lead storied lives, no doubt, but few are as successful and iconic as Kris Kristofferson.

It’s a cliché to say, “Seen it all, done it all,” but one gets the impression that the Country Music Hall of Famer has, in fact, done just that. A boxer, Rhodes scholar and military officer, not to mention an actor and singer-songwriter, Kristofferson has found success in a variety of vocations.

His notoriety as a songwriter allowed him to launch a career as a performer, and he began recording his own songs, releasing his first album in 1970. However, success as an actor came more readily than as a singer and he appeared in many films throughout the 1970s and beyond.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that Kristofferson is perhaps better known to the public as an actor, as a songwriter he has been an influential force in country songwriting. His songs are both personal and reflective, yet strike a chord with a variety of people in all walks of life. His latest album is no exception; it is the work of a man at peace with both his demons and his legacy.

“Feeling Mortal” is Kristofferson’s first album of new material in four years and also his first independent release on his own KK Records label. It is the third record in a trilogy, produced by veteran producer Don Was, that began with “This Old Road” (2006) and “Closer to the Bone” (2009).

“Wide awake and feeling mortal/At this moment of the dream,” he sings on the opening line of the title track, a song which finds the singer facing his own mortality; reluctantly perhaps, but with gratitude and without regret. At the forefront of this record is Kristofferson’s weathered voice, no longer the voice of a young man of course, but still strong, with a gentle grace and a hard-won wisdom.

The musicianship is excellent throughout; a fine band backs the veteran performer and also features Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek, lending vocals and violin. The record consists of 10 songs, all penned by Kristofferson, with the exception of the old 1970 song “My Heart Was the Last One to Know” co-written with Shel Silverstein. Originally recorded by Connie Smith, the tune is a simple and beautiful country classic.

“Stairway to the Bottom” is another vintage piece, a rerecording of a song that originally appeared on “Spooky Lady’s Sideshow” in 1974. But “Bread for the Body” and “You Don’t Tell Me What to Do” are among the most enjoyable on the record, the former a song of realization about what’s important in life and the latter an ode to freedom and an independence of spirit.

And I will go on making music
and whiskey
and love for as long
as the spirit inside me
says you don’t tell me what to do.

If the songs on “Feeling Mortal” are any indication, it looks like Kristofferson will be doing just that for a few more years.

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