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‘The Life and Songs of Kris Kristofferson’ is a Wonderful Tribute to an Exceptional Talent
October 27, 2017  | By David Hinckley  | 1 comment

If you only know Kris Kristofferson from his biggest hit songs, like “Me and Bobby McGee” or “Help Me Make It Through The Night,” you can give yourself a treat Friday night by listening to a fistful of the rest.

If you know the others, from “Beat the Devil” to “Here Comes That Rainbow Again,” you don’t have to be told to tune into CMT Friday at 10 p.m. ET for The Life and Songs of Kris Kristofferson.

The occasion is the fast-moving 90-minute version of a March 2016 tribute concert to Kristofferson, with country stars from Reba McEntire and Willie Nelson to Lady Antebellum and Alison Krause singing 21 of his songs.

He sings a couple himself, including “Why Me” with the whole cast plus duets of “Sunday Morning Coming Down” with Willie Nelson and “The Pilgrim Chapter 33” with Emmylou Harris.

To say Kristofferson “sings” any more is a bit of a stretch, but the songs and the cast carry the day without breaking a sweat.

They’re also enhanced by a large, first-rate Nashville backing band that includes three gospel-style backup singers. It’s a full production, and while things slow down a little for some of the ballads, like Rosanne Cash singing “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” the whole show has a rich, pure country sound that permeates every corner of the room.

While Kristofferson’s writing can be strikingly clever, as it is on “The Pilgrim,” he doesn’t write lines just to show off his wordplay. He’s saying something and always crafting his message – as does his buddy Nelson – with an economy of words.

Hearing Eric Church sing “To Beat The Devil” or Martina McBride sing “Here Comes That Rainbow Again,” the flow of the lyrics feels both country and musically universal.

Hank Williams Jr. sings “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams” with an aggression that says more about Hank Jr. than the song, but it’s hard to argue with the lyrics, which tell you what you can do if you don’t like old Hank. The original Hank.

On the flip side we have Jessi Colter – widow of Kristofferson’s late running buddy Waylon Jennings – turning “The Captive” into pure joy, a honky-tonk performance that would have everyone dancing on the bar if there were a bar.

Two of the most Kristofferson-like renditions come from Dierks Bentley with the Traveling McCourys and Buddy Miller.

Bentley and the McCourys play “From the Bottle to the Bottom” as a six-man string band. If the effect is a bit muted because the band and the backup singers also join in, the old-time feeling comes through.

Miller, one of those beloved warriors who has had more success with classic country fans than with country radio, opens the show with “Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends.”

That was a big radio hit for Ronnie Milsap, who did it nicely. Miller does it better, a little more raw and aching.

By the end, The Life and Songs of Kris Kristofferson feels more than a little like a country version of the 1992 Bob Dylan tribute concert at Madison Square Garden. At which, incidentally, Kristofferson appeared.

This one has the same exhilaration and the same reverence by first-rate performers for first-rate songs. If you weren’t a fan at the start of the show, you will be at the end.

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Here's a link to my favorite version of Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through The Night" It's by Tina Turner!
Oct 27, 2017   |  Reply
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