Kris Kristofferson was, and likely is still, a man of many talents. In 1965, Kristofferson left a teaching position at the United States Military Academy to seek success in the music industry. After moving to Nashville and trying to make his way as a songwriter, unsuccessfully, he took a job piloting helicopters to and from oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico in order to support his wife and 2 young children. After getting fired from that thanks to increased alcohol consumption, Kristofferson moved back to Nashville where he learned that some of his songs had been recorded. After some help and support from June Carter Cash and her husband who wore a lot of black, Kristofferson wound up with a whopping 10-year record deal only 4 years after leaving the Military Academy, and 1 year after that he released his debut album, today’s addition to the Musical Training Plan: Kristofferson.
In addition to being a talented songwriter and a singer who said of himself “I sound like a frog”, Kristofferson has also enjoyed a fairly successful career on screens all over the world. With a staggering 119 acting credits on IMDB, the man has kept himself busy. Starting with humble roles in 1971, Kristofferson didn’t really hit anything big (unless you count working with a young Scorsese on Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) until 1976 when he starred opposite Barbara Streisand in the 3rd rendition of A Star is Born. Since then he’s done plenty, but the first films in the “known for” section of IMDB are the comic book action franchise, Blade films, and Payback. Now that we’ve got his film career out of the way, let’s get back to music.
Much like many of the great country-western albums, Kristofferson‘s songwriting is what steals the show. Instrumentally, much of it is pretty par for the course with the exceptions of “Blame it on the Stones” and “The Law is for Protection of the People”, which is not to say that the album is bad or boring musically, just not particularly special. Kristofferson’s vocals aren’t especially noteworthy either (again, he described himself as sounding like a frog) although his rough voice makes his stories all the more believable. The pieces of this album that stick with me are the lyrics as Kris walks the line between poetry and storytelling beautifully. Moments on this album feel almost like having a conversation over a cold bottle and a warm fire with Robert Frost or uncle Walt, a truly unique and delightful feeling to have. My personal favorite moment of songwriting on Kristofferson comes in the spoken word intro to its 2nd song, “To Beat the Devil” when Kristofferson says “With a stomach full of empty and a pocket full of dreams I left my pride and stepped inside a bar. Actually, I guess you’d call it a tavern; cigarette smoke to the ceiling and sawdust on the floor.” He pivots so effectively from calculated artistry to pausing his story for a quick correction before bouncing right back, and I can’t get enough of it. Country is at its core a storytelling genre and Kristofferson is at his core a storyteller (which probably helped his acting career) and, as such, Kristofferson is truly a storytelling album.
This album probably won’t be too boring to function as background noise, but it really shines when you give it enough attention to keep up with the stories being told. There doesn’t seem to be a running narrative through the entire record, but that doesn’t really take anything away from it being as successful as it is. Kris Kristofferson made an album that can be enjoyed fairly easily by most, especially fans of old school country western stylings, without being overly ambitious and weighing it down with any uneccessary flair. That being said, it’s still an easy, fun listen that I’m sure I’ll revisit every once in a while with a smile on my face. I hope you find something to appreciate in this album too.
Thanks for reading.