Kris Kristofferson, legendary songwriter, singer, Country Music Hall of Fame member, actor, activist, Golden Gloves boxer, a Rhodes scholar, a college football player, acclaimed actor, military officer,Â helicopter pilot, a saint, a sinner, a Grammy-winner and aÂ janitor at Columbia Records will release Feeling Mortal, his first collection of new material in four years on January 29, 2013.
The album will be released on his own KK Records will be the third Don Was-produced album in a twilight years trilogy, following 2009â€™s Closer To The Bone and 2006â€™s This Old Road.
The 76-year-old Kristofferson â€œWide awake and feeling mortal,â€ writes on the title track. â€œAt this moment in the dream/ That old man there in the mirror/ And my shaky self-esteem.â€
â€œGoing back to the beginning, the songs have been reflections of where I was at that point in my life,â€ he says. â€œI always try to be as honest as I can in the songwriting, otherwise thereâ€™s no point in doing it: I might as well be doing an advertising job or something. And what Iâ€™m finding, to my pleasant surprise at this age, is that Iâ€™m more inclined to laughter than tears. I hope Iâ€™ll feel this creative and this grateful until they throw dirt over me.â€
That doesnâ€™t mean Feeling Mortal works as anyoneâ€™s greeting card of soft-peddled feelings. â€œJust Supposeâ€ is another look in the mirror, a negotiation with shameâ€™s reflection. â€œCastawayâ€ is a cry of the heart, and a memory of a long-ago scene Kristofferson witnessed from the air, when he was flying helicopters over the Gulf of Mexico. And â€œMy Heart Was The Last One To Knowâ€ is a harrowing old song, written by Kristofferson and genius poet/author/cartoonist/songwriter Shel Silverstein and previously recorded by Connie Smith.
â€œShel was the only person I consistently wrote songs with,â€ Kristofferson says. â€œHe was a fantastic writer. We did about a dozen songs, and usually heâ€™d write down some titles and a description of what he was thinking about, and Iâ€™d go off and come back with a song.â€
The album ends with â€œRamblinâ€™ Jack,â€ a song ostensibly about Kristoffersonâ€™s folk-singing friend Ramblinâ€™ Jack Elliott. Kristofferson approached the song as something of a self-penned co-write, inspired and begun by his younger self and finished in the present and mortal day. The second verse is the new one: â€œAnd if he knew how good heâ€™d done/ Every song he ever sung/ I believe heâ€™d truly be surprised.â€
â€œRamblinâ€™ Jackâ€™s one of those people whose whole life was music,â€ Kristofferson says. â€œHeâ€™s like William Blake and Bob Dylan and other people who just believed and lived for whatever poetry they could come up with. Thatâ€™s probably the thing I was trying to be.â€
Thatâ€™s the thing he was, and the thing he is.
In the Nashville beginning, Kristofferson threw away a promising military career in favor of life as what he sometimes calls, â€œA songwriting bum.â€ He had excelled at most everything heâ€™d ever tried, save for singing and songwriting, but it was the singing and the writing that called to him. He wound up penning classics including â€œMe and Bobby McGee,â€ â€œHelp Me Make It Through the Night,â€ â€œSunday Morning Coming Downâ€ and â€œFor The Good Times,â€ as well as a slew of other empathetic, incisive gems. Kristoffersonâ€”along with contemporaries Tom T. Hall, Mickey Newbury, Willie Nelson and John Prineâ€”enhanced the scope of country music songwriting, focusing on layering, nuance, empathy and emotional truth.
â€œA major reason for Krisâ€™ enduring popularity is that heâ€™s always been very honest and open about revealing his inner life,â€ says producer Don Was, who has worked with Kristofferson for the past 17 years. â€œâ€˜Sunday Morning Coming Downâ€™ is a brutally frank, first-person narrative that just happens to hit a common nerve among millions of people, and thatâ€™s why Kris is such a great artist. I suspect a whole lot of folks will be able to relate to Feeling Mortal, now and for years to come. Itâ€™s totally in keeping with the body of Krisâ€™ oeuvre.â€
Kristofferson and Was spent three days recording Feeling Mortal, cutting 20 songs and picking 10, then bolstering the basic tracks with stellar instrumental work from guitarist Mark Goldenberg, pedal steel master Greg Leisz, keyboardist Matt Rollins, violinist and vocalist Sara Watkins, bassist Sean Hurley and drummer Aaron Sterling.
They emerged with a piece of work that Was suggests is â€œOne of Krisâ€™ finest albums.â€
Kristofferson isnâ€™t one to arm-wrestle with his own legacy, or to set his truths of today against the truths of his old-and-gone immortal self, but heâ€™s pleased that a life that has been sustained by the product of his own imagination remains fruitful.
Above all, Kristofferson is happy to be happy, grateful to be grateful, and wholly unwilling to take the credit for the wondrous way itâ€™s all worked out. In the end, Feeling Mortal is a melodic note of gratitude, from creator to Creator.
â€œGod Almighty, here I am,â€ he sings. â€œAm I where I ought to be? Iâ€™ve begun to soon descend, like the sun into the sea/ And I thank my lucky stars, from here to eternity/ For the artist that You are/ And the man you made of me.â€
Hear samples from Kris Kristofferson’s “Feeling Mortal”