Kris Kristofferson – Closer to the Bone

January 01, 1970

(New West)



Forty years ago, Kris Kristofferson had his songs recorded
and turned into hits by the likes of Roger Miller, Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash,
and Jerry Lee Lewis. And he became a successful recording artist in his own
right, despite the handicap of a voice which could best be described as a
sincere and delicate croak, albeit with an evocative sense of phrasing. After
detours to the world of acting, Kristofferson’s popular success evaporated, but
he kept on writing songs worthy of standing next to “Sunday Morning Coming
Down” or “Me and Bobby McGee.”


Closer to the Bone is only Kristofferson’s third album of new material in the last fourteen years,
all produced by Don Was. Like 2006’s This
Old Road
, Bone has something of
an elegiac feel to it. At 73 years of age, Kristofferson is acutely aware that
life is a precious gift, and that the moments of love found here and there
within it are even more deserving of attention. “Darlin’ take all the time that
you’re given / Be all you know you can be,” he sings in “From Here to Forever,”
and that’s not the vacuous advertising line of a Marine Corps commercial, but a
word of wisdom given to his children. Once, freedom may have been just a word
for nothin’ left to lose, but now, Kristofferson seems more interested in what
there is to gain.


Since he doesn’t record at the rate he did when he started,
Kristofferson may have pulled some of these songs out of his extensive file
cabinet of material. “Good Morning John,” written about his old friend Johnny
Cash, was actually recorded previously by another old friend, Waylon Jennings,
back in 1985. It’s not insignificant that these two Highwaymen partners have passed
on, especially in a song which references staying true to a friend for life. It’s
also worth mentioning that the guitarist Stephen Bruton played on this album
shortly before he passed away from cancer earlier this year. Elsewhere on Bone, Kristofferson sings of the ways we
keep memories alive of those we knew, most notably on “Hall of Angels.”


If there were country singers looking to the classic
songwriters for new material, “Let the Walls Come Down,” with its sing-along
chorus and its neat little rhythmic trick at the end of each verse, could be as
big a hit as anything he’s written. And, a brief coda to the album is provided
by what Kristofferson says was the first song he ever wrote, at age 11 (in
1947!) reveals he started off with a cynicism he’s long since abandoned, with
the hook line being “The happiest day of my unhappy life was the day you set me
free.” After all those beautiful songs of love, life, and memory, it’s nice to
remember that wordsmiths like Kristofferson begin with the ability to be


Standout Tracks: “Sister
Sinead,” “Good Morning John,” “Let the Walls Come Down” STEVE PICK


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