Kris Kristofferson: This Old Road

Dan MacIntosh

Kris Kristofferson is back writing and performing his own songs again, God bless him. But until he restores his lyrical palate completely to its expansive B.A. (before acting) state, he still won't be entirely all the way back.

Kris Kristofferson

This Old Road

Label: New West
US Release Date: 2006-03-07
UK Release Date: 2006-03-13
iTunes affiliate
Amazon affiliate

If you asked the average person on the street today about Kris Kristofferson, chances are they'd tell you he is an actor. And while it's true that Kristofferson has made quite the name for himself because of his cinematic accomplishments, many songwriting fans still fondly recall his classic works, like "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down", which includes lines like, "I woke up this morning/ With no way to hold my head that didn't hurt." Whatever happened to that maverick Nashville songwriter, and why don't we hear gut-level honesty like that on country radio anymore? Kristofferson was, after all, one quarter of The Highwaymen; a country Mt. Rushmore, if you will, that included Willie Nelson, as well as the late Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. Musicians have been known to dabble in acting now and again, it's true, but Kristofferson immersed himself so fully into the thespian life, he almost completely abandoned his songwriting past -- at least until now.

But before Kristofferson intentionally removed his songwriting hat, he first walked away from his highly personalized approach to writing lyrics. This meant that he left behind the sort of memorable hangover observations expressed by "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down", in favor of a much more overtly political perspective. Sadly, the road he travels now looks a lot like that stridently political path he previously traversed just prior to when the acting bug bit. For instance, Kristofferson name-drops fellow activist-songwriters, such as John Trudell, Steve Earle, Merle Haggard, and Willie Nelson on "Wild American" here.

Kristofferson's current musical direction is one that takes stock of the aging revolutionary's life. On "Pilgrim's Progress" he sings, "Am I young enough to believe in revolution?" Aging is also explored through photographs that jar his memory during this CD's title track, whereas "The Last Thing to Go" alludes to what is gained and lost through accumulated years of life. Kristofferson introduces "The Last Thing to Go" with these spoken words: "The great featherweight champion Willie Pep once said that the first thing to go is your legs, then it's your reflexes, then it's your friends." Kristofferson sings in this song's chorus that love is the last thing to go, which is a line that lingers in the air as an undeniably sweet sentiment.

The war in Iraq looms conspicuously large over many of these songs. Nevertheless, Kristofferson has also been touched by other non-military current events, and these observations also seep into his songs. For instance, "In the News" mentions the Laci Peterson murder. "Chase the Feeling", on the other hand, finds Kristofferson delving into the troubles caused by drug addiction. Its chorus warns, "Chase the feeling till you die." About the only straight out love song of this bunch is "Thank You for a Life", which may well be a romantic ode to his wife.

Big time producer Don Was manned this CD, but surprisingly it's an extremely lo-fi effort and mainly comprised of acoustic guitar-backed songs. It's colored by harmonica and mandolin at times, such as on "This Old Road". However, there are very few instrumental elements in this mix. An exception to this overall approach, though, is "Chase the Feeling", which includes standup bass, shuffling drums and a driving rhythm. Although it's primarily an acoustic project, "The Show Goes On", which reflects back upon Kristofferson's wild rock & roll lifestyle, still rocks in its own gentle sort of way.

Kristofferson has never been any great shakes as a vocalist, so his sandpaper singing here sounds exactly like it did back in the '70s. Age has given his phrasing more authority and power, though. He's seen and experienced plenty in his lifetime, which makes him a voice well worth respecting.

It's great to have Kristofferson back writing songs again, although it still feels like he's only half the way back. He's obviously pissed-off about the war in Iraq, as well as the general conservative political climate in America. But Kristofferson, the observer, is a rare breed, and one that is an endangered entity in today's overly self-centered songwriting atmosphere. Kristofferson has returned to the musical road, and it's nice to have him as a fellow traveler once again. Let's just hope this isn't his last step for a while, however. As good as this effort is you have to believe that he still has winning cards he's not yet showing.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.