Why is it that 1973 albums by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson have become classic country staples (see: Jennings’ rough-hewed landmark
Honky Tonk Heroes and Nelson’s before-its-time Shotgun Willie), while Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge’s duo debut from that same year has been relatively overlooked?
On the surface, blame the sonics. Jennings and Nelson was just starting to veer into an edgier soundscape — “outlaw country” before that was part of the vernacular (this was three years before the pivotal
Wanted! The Outlaws compilation featuring Jennings, Nelson, Jessi Colter and Tompall Glaser). Meanwhile, Kristofferson and Coolidge — newfound lovebirds — were largely singing in an adult contemporary style that has not always stood the test of time. That’s not to knock Full Moon, reissued in an expanded edition this summer on Real Gone Music. It’s just that the album is best when it plays up the singers’ country bonafides, not their pop credentials.
Consider the context: before this album, Coolidge had appeared on Joe Cocker’s
Mad Dogs and Englishmen and famously led Leon Russell to pen “A Song for You” and “Delta Lady”. Kristofferson was in between 1972’s Jesus Was a Capricorn and 1974’s Spooky Lady’s Sideshow — each strong singer-songwriter-meets-classic-country statements on their own.
The timing was right for the pairing. As Coolidge recalls in the liner notes, she and Kristofferson made a solid creative match. “Usually, I would be at the piano and I would have some ideas for a song and some of the chord structures and the hook line”, she said. “Kris would come in and I’d say, ‘How do you feel about this? Would you like to write it with me?’ And he usually did, because he liked me a lot then. He would give it life.”
The rollicking, toe-tapping country tunes “From the Bottle to the Bottom” and “I Heard the Bluebirds Sing” are two of the more traditional country performances on
Full Moon. The latter is a sunny, hopeful moment — a bear-hug embrace of nature, life and love. Kristofferson and Coolidge put forth a similar emotion on the sweet and rolling “Tennessee Blues” (written by the under-appreciated Bobby Charles). Meanwhile, they combine for killer harmonies on “I’m Down (But I Keep Falling)”.
Kristofferson and Coolidge’s strong performances are buttressed by tremendous musicians, a top-tier roster of period talent that includes the likes of Booker T. Jones, David Bromberg, Vassar Clements and Donnie Fritts, among others.
Full Moon too often sinks into a pop malaise. The easy breezy “Part of Your Life” and “Loving Arms” and calypso-inspired “A Song I’d Like to Sing” leave much to be desired.
Expanded reissues typically promote their newly released studio outtakes as a way to offer novel material. Oddly, only one of the additional six songs on this reissue of
Full Moon was actually recorded during the album’s recording sessions. That’s “Hobo’s Lullaby”, a solid mid-tempo duet between Kristofferson and Coolidge.
The other five new tracks on the expanded package were leftovers from the sessions for Coolidge’s 1972 and 1974 solo albums. Although there is beautiful pedal steel on “Lost in Austin” and Coolidge soars vocally on “Speak Your Mind”, it is jarring to listen to a Kristofferson and Coolidge team effort and only hear half of the equation for nearly a third of the expanded edition.
Full Moon topped out at 26 on the Billboard 200 chart, according to the liner notes, and it went gold — a solid sales milestone in the early 1970s. Perhaps this reissue will put the album in an appropriate context: while it was not the barn-burning, genre-whipping effort of some contemporaries, it was and continues to be a strong performance and winning postcard from a certain time in country music.