Uncut (magazine) - "[T]he live discs are extraordinary, too: barely a year after he'd been sweeping the studio floor, he's onstage oozing charisma and firing off irresistible, smart-ass one-liners with virtuosic timing..."
Liner Note Author: Mikal Gilmore.
Photographer: Al Clayton.
Judging by the sheer number of Kris Kristofferson songs covered by other iconic artists, he is unquestionably one of the great American songwriters of the 20th century. His recorded catalog, however, has always been subject to greater debate -- even among fans -- due in large part to a narrow register and reedy singing voice. Thanks to this exhaustive box set by Sony Legacy, issued in celebration of Kristofferson's 80th birthday, those arguments can begin anew. This package contains all 11 albums in replica LP sleeves that the singer/songwriter released for Monument and Columbia between 1970 and 1981, as well as five additional volumes that include rare and previously unissued music. Among the bona fide classics are his self-titled debut album, The Silver Tongued Devil & I, Jesus Was a Capricorn, and Border Lord. All were released between 1970 and 1972 and made the Top 10 on the country charts. Spooky Lady's Sideshow from 1974 peaked at number 11, and was given middling reviews, so it's the perfect place to begin a reassessment. It contains some of his most enduring songs, including "Broken Freedom Song," "I May Smoke Too Much," "Lights of Magdala," and "Rescue Mission." Breakaway, his second duet album with then-wife Rita Coolidge, is as fine as their Grammy-winning first, Full Moon, issued by A&M (her label) in 1973, which topped the country charts. Who's to Bless and Who's to Blame (1975) and Easter Island (1978) are worthy even with dated production. Surreal Thing from 1976, however, is unfocused and wildly uneven. 1979's Shake Hands with the Devil (whose cover is adorned with stills from the film A Star Is Born, which Kristofferson co-starred in with Barbra Streisand), while a complete commercial pariah, is a totally misunderstood album. Its experiments with Tex-Mex, Caribbean, AOR pop, and rock were far out of step with mainstream rock and country audiences. Though completely ignored, Kristofferson's final date for Columbia/Monument, 1981's To the Bone, sent him out on a creative peak. It's a forgotten gem. Produced by Norbert Putnam, its songs reflect his divorce from Coolidge and other soul-shattering life trials he was undergoing. It's inspired, dark, and mean. It stands with his best albums. The bonus material includes three unreleased documents: the excellent Live at Big Sur Folk Festival 1970, the organic Live at RCA Studios from 1972, and the 16-song Demos. All are excellent additions to his catalog. The previously issued and acclaimed Live at the Philharmonic was recorded in 1972 but first released in 1992, while Extras collects non-LP singles, alternates, outtakes, and live recordings. There are testimonials here by Monument's Fred Foster and producer Don Was, but the essay by Mikal Gilmore is the jewel. Yes, this is a whole lot of Kristofferson, and it's not for everybody. But it's certainly worthy of investment for fans seeking a balanced portrait of one of Nashville's true crossover mavericks during the singer/songwriter era . ~ Thom Jurek
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