Legendary songwriter/singer/actor/activist Kris Kristofferson will release Feeling Mortal, his first collection of new material in four years on Jan. 29, 2013.
Kristofferson is a Country Music Hall of Famer who ranks among the most versatile of American talents. He’s been a Golden Gloves boxer, a Rhodes scholar, a college football player, an acclaimed actor, a military officer, a helicopter pilot, a Grammy-winner, a screw-up and an icon, and now he finds himself releasing the third Don Was-produced album in a twilight years trilogy. Feeling Mortal follows 2009’s Closer To The Bone and 2006’s This Old Road in examining hard-won grace.
“Going back to the beginning, the songs have been reflections of where I was at that point in my life,” he says. “I always try to be as honest as I can in the songwriting, otherwise there’s no point in doing it: I might as well be doing an advertising job or something. And what I’m finding, to my pleasant surprise at this age, is that I’m more inclined to laughter than tears. I hope I’ll feel this creative and this grateful until they throw dirt over me.”
The now 76-year-old Kristofferson did not always imagine this would be so. “If I look like a mean old man, that’s what I am,” he sang, back when he was still immortal and when he was sometimes a mean-feeling younger man. But now he’s mostly truthful and thankful, as he sings, “For the laughter and the loving/ That I’m living with today.”
That doesn’t mean Feeling Mortal works as anyone’s greeting card of soft-peddled feelings. “Just Suppose” is another look in the mirror, a negotiation with shame’s reflection.
“Castaway” 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 “My Heart Was The Last One To Know” is a harrowing old song, written by Kristofferson and poet/author/cartoonist/songwriter Shel Silverstein and previously recorded by Connie Smith.
“Shel was the only person I consistently wrote songs with,” Kristofferson says. “He was a fantastic writer. We did about a dozen songs, and usually he’d write down some titles and a description of what he was thinking about, and I’d go off and come back with a song.”
Kristofferson and producer Don 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 “One of Kris’ finest albums.”
Above all, Kristofferson is happy to be happy, grateful to be grateful, and wholly unwilling to take the credit for the wondrous way it’s all worked out. In the end, Feeling Mortal is a melodic note of gratitude, from creator to Creator.
“God Almighty, here I am,” he sings. “Am I where I ought to be? I’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.”