Album Review: Kris Kristofferson – Closer To The Bone

Juli Thanki | September 30th, 2009

kris-kristofferson-closer-to-the-boneListening to a Kris Kristofferson record for his melodious singing voice is a little bit like reading The New Yorker solely for the cartoons. Kristofferson—one of the greatest songwriters country music has known—has never been the strongest singer, even in his prime, but here he sounds every day of his 73 years. Still, while he may not be a good singer, he is certainly a great one, able to make the listener feel what he’s feeling–a skill worth more than a pretty-but-soulless voice any day of the week.

Like This Old Road, Closer to the Bone is an extremely intimate album, with Kristofferson’s vocals backed by sparse arrangements. Occasionally, he’ll introduce a song as though he’s onstage: he begins “From Here to Forever” with a gruff “Here’s one I wrote for my kids.” A real treat for listeners and longtime fans is the hidden track: the “first whole song” ever written by Kristofferson. He doesn’t name names in his spoken word intro, but one’s got to wonder just who done 11-year old Kris wrong enough to inspire lyrics such as “your skin is tanned like leather/It looks just like a heifer’s/I hate you dear and I think you ought to know.” Okay, so “I Hate Your Ugly Face” may not be on par with Mozart composing at age five, but it’s still proof positive that Kris Kristofferson had the gift of songwriting at an age, when most children are preoccupied with Little League and Saturday morning cartoons.

Though he’s never been shy about his beliefs, there isn’t a lot of political ideology featured on the album; instead, the focus is on the personal. At times Closer to the Bone feels like a last will and testament, from the lyrics of the title track (“Coming from the heartbeat/Nothing but the truth now”) where he’s joined by Stephen Bruton, to Kristofferson’s celebration of dear friends who’ve passed on. The album itself is dedicated to the late Bruton, who contributed guitar, mandolin, and backing vocals to the album, and played guitar with Kris for 40 years before succumbing to cancer earlier this year. Bruton, with Kristofferson and Glen Clark, also co-wrote “From Here to Forever,” a song whose chorus—”Darling, if we’re not together/There’s one thing I want you know/I’ll love you from here to forever/And be here wherever you go”—is now even more poignant.

Kristofferson also pays tribute to friend Johnny Cash with “Good Morning John,” a song written about Cash’s struggles with addiction. It’s rare to find such an honest expression of love from one man to another unless he’s singing about his father and/or brother, and for that reason alone, “Good Morning John” stands out. Through this song we’re given a brief peek into the friendship between two artists and the person behind the Man in Black image as Kristofferson speak-sings “There ain’t nothing you can’t handle now ’cause there ain’t nothing bigger than your heart/Keep smiling, John/For you owe it to the others and the dark and holy wonder that you are.”

Like Guy Clark’s recent release Somedays the Song Writes You, Closer to the Bone occasionally drags. Kristofferson plods through “Let the Walls Come Down,” and so-so closing track “The Wonder” ends the album with a whimper, not a bang. But after nearly 40 years as a singer-songwriter, Kris Kristofferson is still making records that burn with stark honesty and simple beauty. He may be in the twilight of his career, but his pen is still as sharp as ever.

4 Stars

3 Pings

  1. [...] this week, Kris Kristofferson released his latest album Closer to the Bone. Juli reviewed the album on Wednesday, giving it four out of five stars: Like Guy Clark’s recent release Somedays the Song [...]
  2. [...] The 9513 sure liked it a whole lot… [...]
  3. [...] There is a great review on the9513.com by one of my favorite country writers, Juli Thanki, HERE.- - - - - - - - - - - [...]
  1. Leeann Ward
    September 30, 2009 at 7:01 am

    I don’t have this album yet, but I will wait no more for it. Thanks for the review that I needed to get me into gear. I love

  2. mikeky
    September 30, 2009 at 8:33 am

    highly recommended. kristofferson isn’t just one of country music’s best songwriters, he’s one of MUSIC’s best songwriters. some of these songs have been recorded by him (and others, like waylon jennings) before, but these are the ultimate versions. a knockout.

  3. Steve M.
    September 30, 2009 at 8:45 am

    When I was younger, Kristofferson’s voice turned me off. But as I have gotten older, I have to appreciate more the raggedness of it. I have always believed that along with Dylan, the two write poetry more then just simply songs.

  4. Hanford
    September 30, 2009 at 10:39 am

    I disagree. His voice is better then any “country singer” on the charts right now. I saw him with Emmy Lou Harris not too long ago at a festival and he sang better then the “headliners.”

  5. mikeky
    September 30, 2009 at 10:47 am

    i agree. his voice is a lot better than people (including himself) give him credit for. it’s expressive and it fits his material. it connects and that’s all you need.

  6. CMW
    September 30, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Great review, and I’ll agree with everyone that I’ve always found claims like “he’s a great songwriter who can’t sing a lick” baffling. Even with the songs that became monster hits for other artists, I still think his own recordings are most often the definitive ones.

  7. JD
    September 30, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    You guys crack me up. Kristofferson is an awful singer. Abysmal. John Prine laughs at him. Oh, wait a minute…. don’t tell me….he’s another “great” singer….please.

    Granted, Kris is less out of tune compared to his earlier stuff but he also bails out to the spoken word constantly, as he doesn’t even attempt to reach notes (low and high) out of his half-octave range.

  8. Kelly
    September 30, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    “while he may not be a good singer, he is certainly a great one, able to make the listener feel what he’s feeling”

    Perfectly stated Juli – so many people, including certain frequtent commenters here, get unecessarily bogged down with a need to hear “strong vocals”. give me a voice filled with distinction and an ability to really move the listener over a technically proficient “vocalist” that lacks real soul any day of the week…

  9. Todd
    September 30, 2009 at 6:20 pm

    I disagree JD, Kristofferson’s voice exudes emotion. It is not so much perfection, but it is his performance that captures the listener. When other people cover his material, it often comes across inorganic, devoid of genuineness. He is the only one that should ever sing “Why Me Lord”(However,I do like the Stamps’ version)and for that matter his version of “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down.” I have heard Mr. Cash’s version way too many times.

  10. JD
    October 1, 2009 at 10:21 am

    “Kristofferson’s voice exudes emotion…”

    A bum lying in the gutter can exude emotion… doesn’t make him a great singer.

    “technically proficient ‘vocalist’ that lacks real soul…”

    Being proficient doesn’t equal lack of soul. Where’d that crap come from?

    “frequtent”

    Huh?

  11. Shevaun
    October 1, 2009 at 10:23 am

    I received my ordered copy of Closer to the Bone yesterday and I absolutely love it. To me Kris is an absolute legend. His songs have so much meaning and generally we can all relate to them at some time in our lives. What I like about This Old Road and Closer to the Bone, is that I feel Kris is sitting in my lounge, singing just to me. I went to his show in the UK last year March and even there, with hundreds of people around me, I would look up at him on stage and everyone else faded away. I was brought up on his music and my parents had every record of his. We would wake up in the morning to the sounds of Kris coming from my Dad’s tape recorder in the kitchen. We knew just about every song off by heart. I wouldn’t have half the wonderful memories I have if it was not for Kris Kritofferson and his wonderful music. Thank you!!

  12. Kelly
    October 1, 2009 at 11:53 am

    JD – I didnt say that “technically proficient” was equal to a lack of soul automtically. Try reading the comment before asking stupid qusetions like where “crap comes from”…also, it doesnt take a genius to figure that when one is using the term “exudes emotion” in a positive manner, they are referring to exuding the emotion in a pleasing way, not like a “bum lying in the gutter”…

    You might want to mix in a little nuance into your narrow train of thought…

  13. Kelly
    October 1, 2009 at 11:55 am

    …and maybe I could mix in a little spellcheck, but that’s besides the point :-)

  14. JD
    October 1, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Kelly, you can dance around all you like but the fact remains: Kristofferson has no range and has difficulty singing in tune (A=440 Hz, not 450 Hz).
    I can’t understand how anyone would classify a singer with these limitations as “great”.

    Speaking of nuance, I’m beyond help…. but KK could use a little in his drone-like delivery. :-)

  15. Kelly
    October 1, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    JD – Sorry, You can dance around it all you want, and by doing so, you are just missing the point.

    The people that feel as though KK’s voice is “great” have all been quite clear that he isnt a golden-throated vocal perfomer, and obviously, he isnt going to be performing an operatic duet with Andrea Bocelli anytime soon…thats not the point, and at this juncture, I can only assume that you know that and are just messing with us…

  16. Matt B.
    October 1, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    A great singer needn’t be either ‘technichally gifted’ or ‘rangy.’ They just need to be able to sing their material to the voice that they do have, like Kris Kristofferson does. He’s not gonna be for everyone (nobody is) but to make claims that he can’t sing just because he can’t sing multiple octaves is a fallacy.

  17. Leeann Ward
    October 1, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    I’ve long since stopped caring if someone’s voice is technically “good.” I used to care, but I care about the quality of song, emotion and production these days, all of Which Kristofferson (and John Prine) have in spades. I’ll add Guy Clark to that list while we’re at it….and Willie.

  18. JD
    October 1, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Leeann, I agree with you one hundred percent. KK has written some brilliant stuff and without those songs, a singer would have nothing.

    Matt, the guy can’t sing in tune. Nails on a chalkboard. I dunno…maybe it’s me. I don’t think I have “perfect pitch” but I also don’t think one needs it in this case.

    Besides, with JON awol, you guys have no one to hammer so I’ll just take one for the team….

  19. Chris N.
    October 1, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    If you want technically perfect singers, go listen to opera.

  20. Guy
    October 1, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    I seem to remember a Kristofferson moment when he won a Grammy and with a grin reminded the audience during his acceptance speech he had been thrown out of such venues as little steakhouses because he couldn’t sing.

  21. JD
    October 1, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    chris…. no, I don’t want technically perfect singers. If you had taken the time to read, this all started with my taking issue with comments like: “His voice is better then any “country singer” on the charts”.

    As for your listening advice, gimme your phone number and I’ll be sure to give you a call the minute I give a ratsass about what you think. :-)

  22. Leeann Ward
    October 1, 2009 at 9:37 pm

    As for your listening advice, gimme your phone number and I’ll be sure to give you a call the minute I give a ratsass about what you think.

    Well, I guess that’s the end of engaging in conversation with you then.

  23. Stormy
    October 1, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    Its not the furthest any of us have gone to get Chris’ number…..

  24. Good Music Fan
    November 14, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Kris is in the same boat as Willie and Bob Dylan.

    You either don’t care for their singing or you’re absolutely in awe the emotion they manage to transcend.

    When someone has such an amazing response from the world around them like, Vern Gosdin ( http://thevoiceofcountrymusic.com ), I think we need to put our smart caps on and try to identify what that person offers as opposed to what they don’t have.

  25. Ron
    November 14, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    JD – you can have your screeching big note singers. I’ll take KK and other less than perfect singers anyday. By the way, I’ll also take John Prine (though after the cancer, he has lost something), Dylan and numerous others who may not be the best singers.

    When I want perfection in singing, I’m not looking toward country anyway. Except for maybe Alison Krauss.

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