Closer to the Bone finds one of the greatest poets of our time at the very peak of maturity, yet stripped down to his most basic elements, both in voice, instrumentation and in songwriting. Kristofferson delivers the songs in that same rugged voice we are used to, yet now it shows signs of age, much the same way a beautiful antique chair does. There are cracks here and there and some of the varnish has faded, but it’s still the most comfortable chair you’ve ever sat in.
The title says it all. Kris is writing closer to the bone. But he is not just a brilliant songwriter, he is a real, honest to God poet.
The song that he begins with “This is one I wrote for my kids” is a song called “From Here to Forever,” and it is breathtaking it its simplicity yet brilliant in its message of undying love. Kristofferson strums the acoustic guitar and blows the harp, and you can even hear him breathing between verses. That’s honesty in it’s truest form. It’s an honesty that is sorely missing in today’s corporate country music - the honesty of the masters like Cash, Haggard and Shaver.
The album is like spending time in a log cabin out in the woods, a fire crackling in the fireplace, and Kris sitting in an old rocking chair playing just for you. Intimate.
Songs like “Starlight and Stone,” “Hall of Angels,” and “Holy Woman” are deeply thought out stories just as much as a Faulkner novel.
“Sister Sinead” is a nice tip of the hat to his friend Sinead O’Conner, who, much like himself, has long been misunderstood, while “Good Morning John” is a fitting tribute to another friend, Johnny Cash.
As a hidden bonus track, Kris tosses in the very first song he ever wrote, at the age of 11. The brutally honest “I Hate Your Ugly Face.” He was radical even as a child.
Produced by Don Was, who also plays bass, the record features Mad Dogs and Englishmen legend Jim Keltner on drums, Rami Jeffee on keys, and the late Stephen Bruton on guitar and mandolin. The album is dedicated to Bruton, whom Kris calls his “soul brother” in the notes.
For the most part it is Kris - voice, guitar and harp on this bare bones release. To me, that makes it all the more special. A brilliant collection of songs and performances that make me feel a sense of hope that country music still lives, even in the age of Nashville teen pop. Kristofferson always keeps it real. Heartfelt. Honest music. Music that is Closer to the Bone.
-Michael Buffalo Smith