The Essential Kris Kristofferson
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2004, Volume 11, #6
Written by John Metzger
Without fail, Kris Kristofferson’s songs consistently have fared better when they have been recorded by other artists. For the most part, this stems from the fact that his underwhelming vocals don't always convey the full emotional depth and range of his lyrics. For proof, simply compare his rendition of Me & Bobby McGee with the definitive interpretation that was cut by Janis Joplin. Regardless, Kristofferson — whose style was informed by Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, and John Prine — has been tremendously successful as recording artist. At the same time, though, there's little doubt that his best moments occurred before he was truly known.
Not surprisingly, the first half of The Essential Kris Kristofferson — his newly minted, two-disc retrospective — is devoted exclusively to the particularly fertile period that stretched from 1969 to 1971. It was this era that yielded his most esteemed nuggets, including For Good Times, which was a country chart topper for Ray Price; Help Me Make It through the Night, which became a Grammy-winning single for Sammi Smith; and Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down, a once-controversial, first-person account of a hangover that was covered in equally effective fashions by both Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.
The latter half of the The Essential Kris Kristofferson is considerably less intriguing, though it also proves that Kristofferson’s output over the past 20 years hasn’t been devoid completely of merit. Still, it’s the early tunes — such as To Beat the Devil, a commentary on the difficulties of combating addiction; The Best of All Possible Worlds, a tragically comedic recounting of a drinking binge; and Darby’s Castle, a cautionary saga about the perils of fame and fortune — that serve to highlight an artist who was able to parlay his monumental skill as a songwriter into a long and distinguished career. ˝
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box