Don’t Let the Bastards Get You Down
A Tribute to Kris Kristofferson
Jackpine Social Club
If anyone deserves a decent tribute album in his name, Kris Kristofferson may very well be the one. The first country star to successfully combine the outlaw personae with important social commentary, Kristofferson’s early albums are poised somewhere between the country music of Johnny Cash and the angular protest folk of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. Plus, obviously, they include some of the finest blue-collar singer-songwriter tunes of that particular era. Never a hippie as such himself, Kristofferson was still embraced by the then-fading movement. And understandably so, as he sang his songs about free living and the common man’s right to speak out and be heard.
With a series of poor albums following his fine early-’70s output, as well as one too many mediocre film parts (in-between some great ones, mind), Kristofferson himself has done his best to destroy his own legacy. It is only so much more satisfying, then, to see the impressive line-up of artists paying their respect here, and carrying on the tradition of those early, fine efforts in the process.
Kicking off with Television’s Tom Verlaine and his version of “The Hawk,” you know you’re in for something extraordinary right away. This is Verlaine in top form, heartbreakingly intense, emotionally riveting. And as Chuck Prophet follows directly after, with a brilliant take on “Loving Her Was Easier,” you’ll already have figured out that this isn’t your run-of-the-mill tribute album.
Sure, not all the tracks stand up against the originals, but there are few real misses on here, and most of the versions are both brave and effective — some even nothing short of outstanding. Among those latter ones are, aside from the aforementioned ones, Red House Painters’ Mark Kozelek doing “Lights Of Magdala” with Hannah Marcus — incidentally, the only song on here that Kristofferson did not write — and Lambchop’s Paul Burch on a lovely “The Pilgrim (Chapter 33).” Kelly Hogan is stunning on “Why Me” and Northern Lights deliver a great “The Law is for Protection of the People.”
A very fine, at times brilliant, and long overdue tribute album, then. Besides providing several great tracks in their own rights, the album succeeds in demonstrating Kristofferson’s position in the history of alt.country and Americana, and as such it is a convincing and important achievement.