“There ain’t nothing you can’t handle now ’cause there ain’t nothing bigger than your heart/Keep smiling, John/For you owe it to the others and the dark and holy wonder that you are.
Those are some of the intimate lyrics found on award-winning songwriter Kris Kristofferson’s 2009 album Closer To The Bone. They refer to his good friend Johnny Cash and were written in the 1970s, but are not the earliest example of his songwriting offered here. That honor goes to the last and most amusing track “I Hate Your Ugly Face,” that Kris introduces by telling us it’s ‘his first whole song,’ written when he was eleven. It certainly doesn’t compare to Harry Connick Jr.’s Eleven album, but proves that Kris had a promising songwriting knack. My feeling is that he imagined this “sorry-looking mess” with skin tanned like leather and looking like a heifer’s and what an imagination!
After enjoying The Essential Kris Kristofferson so much, in spite of not being a country music fan at all, I decided to check out one of his latest albums. He’s 73 and sounds like it. His voice is a little thinner, more wavery and comfortable in the lower notes, but it still manages to sound soulful. This is a singer who won’t win on American Idol, not that he would care to try, and instead prefers to win our hearts. I think he does that with his twentieth album.
Besides his tribute to Cash he offers songs about his wife as well as a friend Sinead O’Connor, dedicating the album to longtime band member Stephen Bruton who died earlier that year. Together they wrote the song for Kris’ kids called “From Here To Forever,” which seems poignant in retrospect. I’ve heard that Kristofferson writes about his political beliefs, but not on this album. It’s more personal, reflective and closer to the bone or the truth now that he’s in his twilight years. While I like that and also the lyrics booklet that includes all song lyrics but the last one, he’s a spiritual person and that comes across too much for me.
Kris plays acoustic guitar (more strumming than picking it seems) and a pretty boring harmonica on many of the songs. It’s really a slow album, a few songs more draggy than others, so you have to be in the mood for that. I’d rather listen to his earlier work, partly for his stronger voice, but those songs were more inspired and amusing and, well, more western if that makes sense. You could enjoy them at a saloon with friends while Closer To The Bone would go over better at a church service.
It’s a short album with spare background support at about thirty-three minutes, holding twelve songs. You can’t deny Kristofferson’s songwriting skills, especially on the impassioned title track. That said I don’t know if he intends it to be his last album (he hasn't made another), but somehow I doubt it. He’s only closer to the bone and has a ways to go yet, fortunately.
The tracks: closer to the bone/from here to forever/holy woman/starlight and stone/sister sinead/hall of angels/love don’t live here anymore/good morning, john/tell me one more time/let the walls come down/the wonder/I hate your ugly face