[KK Records, 2013]
Joshua P. Fowler, January 26, 2013
Listen: “Bread for the Body (And Food For the Soul)”
It has been the modus operandi of the aging country artist to release numerous records of covers to varying results (see Cash’s fantastic American recordings and Nelson’s mediocre recent albums), but Kris Kristofferson takes another path on his most recent offering, Feeling Mortal. Kristofferson has always been better known as a songwriter than as performing or recording artist and he penned many hits that have become synonymous with country, folk, and rock music (mostly when recorded by other artists). Therefore, it is not a surprise that he is now more interested in sharing his newest collection of songs than interpreting those of other writers.
Feeling Mortal is the fourth collaboration between Kristofferson and Producer Don Was. While the last two records were focused more on the strumming acoustic guitar and harmonica that Kristofferson plays, accompaniment takes a stronger role. That isn’t to say at any point it overshadows the songs and the singer and instead compliments them perfectly. Spanish guitar and accordion give many of the songs a south-of-the-border feel that is common throughout Kristofferson’s career. Others take a more traditional country feel with steel guitar swirling around the lyrics. Anyone who has seen Kristofferson performing recently knows he has a bit of a tendency to ramble and to get off track with himself and his songs. The accompaniment helps rein him in and gives the songs a more complete sound. While 2009’s Closer to the Bone sounded more like a living room session Feeling Mortal is a carefully crafted and constructed record.
The title may make some assume that the record will be overly morbid or depressing, but this is not the case. Kristofferson has always had a dry black humor in his songs rivaled perhaps only by his friend and collaborator Shel Silverstein. Even the title track isn’t so much about fear of death but it is an understanding that it is an unavoidable hangover to the party that is life. The most introspective song on the record is “Bread for the Body (and Food For the Soul),” which tells the story of how he left a promising military career to follow his muse into music–a decision which ultimately left him disowned and working as a janitor. But, as Kristofferson sings, it is useless to live a life that is unfulfilled, “Because life is a song for the dying to sing / And it’s got to have feeling to mean anything / And a man can get by without silver or gold / With bread for the body and song for the soul”
The album closes with a tribute to Woody Guthrie protégé Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, which could be just as well be autobiographical. It tells the tale of a man who lived a long hard life, one who made many mistakes and even more friends, who sacrificed much to create beautiful music. The theme of Feeling Mortal isn’t so much the death but the appreciation of the well lived life that precedes it. A life that Kris Kristofferson keeps on living.