Various artists, “The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson” (Blackbird)
A star-studded lineup — including Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell and Lady Antebellum — performs a live tribute to one of country music’s transformative singer-songwriters.
Though he’s scored hits on his own, Kristofferson’s greatest achievements have been as a songwriter and by the early 1970s his portfolio included such standards as “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (Sammi Smith), “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” (Johnny Cash) and “Nobody Wins” (Brenda Lee).
Those are all on the album, though sung by others, along with selections like Reba McEntire’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” ”Jesus Was A Capricorn (Owed to John Prine)” by Jack Ingram — whose vocals are very Prine — and Rosanne Cash’s heartfelt “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” — where “her” becomes “him.”
With backing from a band including Don Was, Buddy Miller, Matt Rollings and Greg Leisz, other performances include Alison Krauss with “Casey’s Last Ride,” Eric Church’s very personal take on “To Beat the Devil” and Hank Williams Jr.’s line-in-the-sand “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams.”
A sung mini-biography of the honoree, “Kristofferson,” with Jessi Alexander, Jon Randall and Larry Gatlin, is the only tune not written by him, while the man himself takes the stage a few times, including closer “Why Me,” a deeply spiritual song and his biggest success as a performer. If anyone’s missing, it’s Rita Coolidge, Kristofferson’s ex-wife with whom he recorded several albums.
Released with a DVD of the Nashville concert, “The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson” is a winning approach to a career overview, relying on outstanding performers to draw from a deep catalog of excellent tunes.