Well, yeah, to be totally honest, it's gonna take me a long time to get around to plowing through the Kris Kristofferson catalog... Not that I have anything against the great, grizzled singer/songwriter/film star... It's just that I'm gettin' old, and I don't have as much free time as I used to... But some day, when I have more time, I'll get all groovy and Kristofferson-ed out... Until then, here's a list of his records, with a few select reviews. Enjoy!





Discography

Kris Kristofferson "Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends -- The Publishing Demos: 1968-72" (Sony/Light In The Attic, 2010)
Legend has it that before he hit the bigtime, Kris Kristofferson was pushing a broom in his day job as a janitor in Nashville, and one day he pushed his demo tape into the right hands, and finally made it big in Music City. Well, here are those demo tapes, more or less -- the rough-sketch, Rosetta Stone recordings that opened up all the doors... Fans will definitely want to check this album out!


Kris Kristofferson "Kristofferson" (Monument, 1970)
(Produced by Fred Foster)


Kris Kristofferson "The Silver Tongued Devil And I" (1971)


Kris Kristofferson "Me And Bobby McGee" (1971)


Kris Kristofferson "Border Lord" (1972)


Kris Kristofferson "Jesus Was A Capricorn" (1972)


Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge "Full Moon" (A&M, 1973) (LP)


Kris Kristofferson "Spooky Lady's Sideshow" (Columbia, 1974)


Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge "Breakaway" (Columbia, 1974)


Kris Kristofferson "Who's To Bless... And Who's To Blame?" (Columbia, 1975)


Kris Kristofferson & Barbra Streisand "A Star Is Born" (Soundtrack) (Columbia, 1976)


Kris Kristofferson "Surreal Thing" (Monument, 1977)
As with many Kristofferson albums, this has its ups and downs... It has one sure-fire, super-duper fab cult classic tune, though: Kristofferson's "If You Don't Like Hank Williams (You Can Kiss My Ass)," which mysteriously doesn't make it into the standard Kristofferson best-ofs, even though it's clearly one of his best songs. (You can hear the song in a cover version done by Hank's theatrically rowdy progeny, Hank Jr., but having him do the song seems kind of silly and really takes the bite out of it...) Anyway, the thick, heavy rock arrangements of many of these songs may be a turn-off for some, but as long as the Hank tune still can't be found elsewhere, this disc remains a must-have for alt.country fans.


Kris Kristofferson "Easter Island" (1978)


Kris Kristofferson "Shake Hands With The Devil" (1979)


Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge "Natural Act" (1979)


Kris Kristofferson "To The Bone" (1981)


Kris Kristofferson & Willie Nelson "Songwriter" (Columbia, 1984)
The soundtrack to Kris & Willie's slapdash outlaw-themed hicksploitation film, Songwriter, which features them as a pair of road-weary country stars, one of whom tries putting on a suit to conquer Music City, and the other who stays true to his roots. It's not a great movie, but still kind of a fun glimpse into Willie's world, and a few of the songs are memorable. The album is divided into a Willie side and a Kris side, with Kristofferson's set sounding generally more hard-rock oriented, and Willie's more acoustic. His show-biz themed songs, "Songwriter" and "(Mr. Record Man) Write Your Own Songs" are both a bit blunt, but also kinda fun. Some of these tunes have made it out on best-of CDs, but the original album is still worth tracking down.


Highwaymen "Highwayman" (Columbia, 1985)
(Produced by Chips Moman)

The first Highwaymen album, an outlaw-legends collaboration between Kristofferson and his pals, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings. This has the sluggishness of an celebrity vanity project, yet several songs stand out, approaching, if not fully attaining, the epic scale implied by such an all-star lineup. "Jim, I Wore A Tie Today" has a nice soulfulness to it; the revamped arrangement on Cash's chestnut, "Big River," is also kinda nice, while "Last Cowboy Song" and "The Twentieth Century Is Almost Over" ably capitalize on the mythic status of the august quartet. It's nice to see that the repertoire also includes material by Guy Clark ("Desperados Waiting For A Train") and Woody Guthrie ("Deportee"), although these are not superior versions of either song. Not a stunning album, but certainly worth checking out.


Kris Kristofferson "Repossessed" (1986)


Kris Kristofferson "Third World Warrior" (1990)


Highwaymen "Highwaymen II" (Columbia, 1990)


Kris Kristofferson "Live At The Philharmonic" (1992)


Kris Kristofferson "A Moment Of Forever" (Justice, 1995)


The Highwaymen "The Road Goes On Forever" (Capitol/Liberty, 1995/2005)
The Highwaymen "The Road Goes On Forever (Tenth Year Anniversary)" (CD & DVD) (Capitol/Liberty, 1995/2005)
(Produced by Don Was)

Even though Don Was sat behind the console to produce this one, I gotta admit it's pretty darn good, and a punchier, more compelling work than the first two Highwaymen albums on Columbia. This kicks off with a good version of Steve Earle's "The Devil's Right Hand," then cruises into songs by Billy Joe Shaver, Dallas Frazier and a few tunes by the various fellers in the band. It's a pretty strong record, certainly worth checking out, even with a few clunky nods towards modern, Top-40 country production. The expanded 10th Anniversary edition includes a half-dozen outtakes from the original sessions. Most of these bonus tracks are, frankly, a little sketchy, but the first -- an acoustic demo of Cash singing "Live Forever" -- is positively electrifying, and Waylon's "I Ain't Song" is a fun shaggy-dog story about life behind-the-scenes in Nashville, a rollicking campfire song, complete with chortles and guffaws from his appreciative Highwaymen pals... While the other extras are kind of marginal, they also give a good sense of the cheerful, behind-the-scenes informality and collegiality the foursome shared... The expanded version also includes a new DVD that shows more of the making-of process, which will be thrilling to fans of any of these alt-country old-timers.


Kris Kristofferson "The Austin Sessions" (Atlantic, 1999)


Kris Kristofferson "Broken Freedom Song: Live In San Francisco" (Audium, 2003)
If deconstructing stardom is your thing, then Kris Kristofferson is your man. The craggy old outlaw tunesmith, who had considerable mainstream success in the 1970s, has retooled himself as a left-leaning political troubadour, like Phil Ochs on a bender. And if there's anywhere folks'd flock to hear an old-timer like Kristofferson discourse about Nicaragua's Sandinistas, mercenary soldiers, capitalistic ennui and the general disaffection of the working class, I guess it would be here in San Francisco. You really have to be predisposed to buy into the Kristofferson mystique (as this audience clearly was): this performance is pretty raspy and half-assed, but for the faithful, it's a real treat. Still, it's not quite the kind of album that you could really hum along to...


Kris Kristofferson "Live From Austin Texas" (New West, 2006)
(Originally from a 1981 taping of the Austin City Limits TV show...)


Kris Kristofferson "This Old Road" (New West, 2006)


Kris Kristofferson "Closer To The Bone" (New West, 2009)


Kris Kristofferson "Feeling Mortal" (KK Records, 2012)
(Produced by Don Was)

A stripped-down, mournful set from an Americana elder... Kristofferson has always been one of those roots music dudes who had an weary, geezerly, old-man vibe: now he really means it. At age 76, he's also still the master crafter of crisp, concise couplets, including the verses that open this album, matter-of-fact ruminations on aging and mortality. He can also sculpt a perfect old-school country song, like on "Stairway To The Bottom," a rueful weeper that does not miss its mark. If you're a fan, you'll want to check out this self-released, rough-hewn nugget. Pure late-vintage Kristofferson.




Best-Ofs

Kris Kristofferson "The Songs Of Kris Kristofferson" (1988)
Best-of....


Kris Kristofferson "16 Biggest Hits" (Sony-BMG, 2001)
Best-of....


Kris Kristofferson "All-Time Greatest Hits" (Varese Sarabande, 2001)
This disc captures the essesence of Kristofferson's work, the moments of brilliance as well as the piles of pretension. Kristofferson was at the vanguard of Nashville's early '70s singer-songwriter scene; he wasn't a particularly strong performer, but his songs sure caught on, most notably "Me And Bobby McGee" and "Sunday Morning Coming Down." He nailed his own similarity to John Prine on the head with "Jesus Was A Capricorn," a lively duet with Prine himself. Still, a lot of his ouvre was a little leaden for my tastes -- particularly attempts at social relevance such as "Josie" (one in a long line of lame guys-writing-about-prostitutes songs...) and "Casey's Last Ride." The thing is, Kristofferson may not have had the oompf to play hard country, so his boozy poet persona was what best suited his temperament and talent. Again, I don't find most of his stuff all that compelling, but this is a first-rate look at his work.


Kris Kristofferson "The Essential" (Sony Legacy, 2004)




Tributes

Kris Kristofferson/Various Artists "Singer/Songwriter" (1991)
A 2-CD set that contrasts Kristofferson's versions of his songs with covers by various country and rock artists...


Willie Nelson "Sings Kris Kristofferson" (Columbia, 1979)


Dick Van Altena "...Sings The Hits Of Kris Kristofferson" (Starsound, 2004)
A 2-CD set that contrasts Kristofferson's versions of his songs with covers by various country and rock artists...


Various Artists "DON'T LET THE BASTARDS GET YOU DOWN" (Jackpine, 2002)
A half indie-alt, half twangcore homage to 1960s/'70s outlaw songwriter Kris Kristofferson, with veteran altbilly rockers such as John Doe, Paul Burch, Kelly Hogan, Jon Langford and Chuck Prophet kicking in, along with more straight-ahead rock bands of various size and description. Kristofferson fans might also want to check out the more mopey, slowcore NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE collection, which was released at the same time, on a different label.


Various Artists "NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE: A TRIBUTE TO KRIS KRISTOFFERSON" (Incidental Music, 2002)
A melancholy, slowcore indie-alt homage to 1960s/'70s outlaw songwriter Kris Kristofferson, featuring modern artists such as Califone, Calexico, the Radar Brothers, Court & Spark, Grandaddy, and others. The overwhelming rock/lo-fi slant of this album makes it a bit of a fish-out-of-water curiousity. I suppose it's a good match, though, for Kristofferson's own overly-deliberate songwriting style. Don't expect much twang on this album, outside of a couple of tracks by Richard Buckner and SF Bay Area old-timey champs, the Crooked Jades. Kristofferson fans might also want to check out the more country-ish DON'T LET THE BASTARDS GET YOU DOWN collection, which was released at the same time, on a different label.


Various Artists "THE PILGRIM: A CELEBRATION OF KRIS KRISTOFFERSON" (American Roots, 2006)
A flat-out awesome album, one of the best tribute discs you'll ever hear. Undaunted by the release a couple of years earlier of two scraggy alt-country Kristofferson homages, the folks at American Roots have rounded up some major talent, including heavyweights such as Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Jessi Colter and Rosanne Cash, alongside younger artists like Shawn Camp, Bruce Robison, Kelly Willis and Todd Snider, all of whom show a strong affinity for Kristofferson's work. High marks go to rowdy gal Gretchen Wilson, who gets a plum role singing "Sunday Morning Comin' Down," and Russell Crowe who gives a surprisingly moving version of "Darby's Castle"; Waylon's boy, Shooter Jennings, acquits himself well on "The Silver Tongued Devil And I," and it's nice to hear raspy ol' Marshall Chapman ripping her way through "Jesus Was A Capricorn..." But really, it's hard to play favorites with this album... With the sole exception of a horrible track by "soul" singer Brian Knight, this disc is all killer, no filler from start to finish. Highly recommended!






Hick Music Index



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