This Old Road
Live From Austin TX
Tried as I might, I've never been one of those overly reverent singer-songwriter fans. I like the genre and all, I dig the man-vs-cosmos act of pouring out your heart with naught but a guitar, western shirt and a barstool, but the prose writ about the kings of those dusty trail riders gets purpler with each passing day. Every cough and flatulence from Townes Van Zandt is preserved in digipacks awaiting your self-identity enhancement at your nearest Barnes and Noble music section, glowing over-produced artifacts from anyone-ever-connected-with-anyone-in Austin stretch out for yards, and that's cool and all, but not everything here is brilliant.
One of those cats is Kris Kristofferson who we of the modern age recognize as that corny actor that would appear at Farm Aid. He scans as a rich guy with interesting friends, but the truth is, the mentor of Blade has penned some on the touchstone songs of the last 40 years, like "Me and Bobby McGee" and "Help Me make It Through The Night. " he was often cited by Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash as America's Greatest Songwriter. But still, people say the same thing about Billy Joel and Elton John. It hard to know if it's safe to jump in that pool.
The resent repackaging of his Austin City Limits performance back in 1981 is one of the more effective discs from New West's reissue series, and goes to prove that his music still has some resonance. He is in great form with a rough baritone that sounds eerily like Nick Cave at moments, and I'm struck how many of the song I recognize from a boyhood spent listing to crackly AM country radio everywhere I went. "Me and Bobby McGee" gets a great rolling thunder treatment here, with the harmonica blaring like a semi horn on a rickety bridge. Also the mandolin-augmented "Nobody Loves Anybody Anymore." It makes this the CD that would want to drop into the mix when you've lulled your audience with a sensitive-yet-dangerous mix of Richard Buckner and Pete Yorn and Elliot Smith and you want to flaunt your deep roots. I find a lot of CD's like this look better on the shelf than they do sound on the player, but this one is an exception.
And, just to prove that he still has all that integrity foisted upon him, his new CD This Old Road is just as resplendent. Replacing the honey-and-cocaine glaze of the 80's recording, we get an autumn-crisp portrait of the old man as an artist. Kris' voice sounds wind-worn and brittle at points compared to his richer younger intonation, but just as powerful while sounding off-hand. The music here lies more along the folk lines, with shortpoken intros like on the "Last Thing To Go." What saves this from being another tepid folk re-hash is the production which is crisp and clear. So many folk albums sound too polished, shined up for ready consumption. The recording here are not barebones lo-fi sketchbook fodder, but they don't sound like any of the last Allison Kraus records which buff her voice down to a nub. Instead this falls squarely in the New Authenticity, like all those Rick Rubin Johnny Cash records. Sure the songs are a little ham-fisted, but Kris is an old man - he's lived enough to sing with some authority about war, peace, country and God. Much like his brother in arms Steve Earle, (who gets namechecked in "Wild American") he's probably not going to change your mind or party affiliation, but if you have some affinity to Bob Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home, Uncle Tupelo's March 14-16, 1984 or Richard Buckner's Bloomed, you will find something warm and inviting in This Old Road. These two recording go to show that Kris is one old warhorse is not only worth the hype, but still has some fire in him. Now if he could only keep The Daywalker in check.../p>
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com