Sunday, June 24, 2018

CD Odyssey Discs 1150 and 1151

As you can see from the title, this post is two reviews in one. That’s because these two albums were re-released in a single CD case. This artist does this a lot, and I don’t mind one bit, because it takes up less space on the CD shelves.

Disc 1150 and 1151 are… Repossessed and Third World Warrior
Artist: Kris Kristofferson

Year of Release: 1986 (Repossessed) and 1990 (Third World Warrior)

What’s up with the Cover? This is some special re-release cover featuring the eyes of Kristofferson from “Third World Warrior” and some random shot of him rocking out on a guitar. The actual covers are:

How I Came To Know It: I first bought “Repossessed” on cassette at A&B sound in the late eighties. It was in a bargain bin at some ridiculously low price like $3.95. At the time I mistakenly thought that the song “What About Me?” was one I remembered hearing on the AM radio when I was a kid. Turns out that version of “What About Me?” is by Moving Pictures and as you can see very much NOT Kris Kristofferson. Epic music fail.

Fortunately, I liked Kris Kristofferson anyway, so I was happy with what I ended up with, albeit by accident.

As for “Third World Warrior” I didn’t know that album until this “Special Re-Release” double CD was released. I was keen to finally have “Repossessed” on CD and and getting “Third World Warrior” as well was a bonus.

How They Stack Up:  I have eight Kris Kristofferson albums I’ll put “Repossessed” in at #4 and “Third World Warrior” right behind it at #5.


What’s up with the Cover?: Kristofferson rocks out, showing off his middle-aged man muscles in a tight black t-shirt. I rock a similar look from time to time, minus the muscles.
Ratings:  3 stars

There is something to be said for obscurity. It allows you the freedom to make whatever kind of music you want.

Kristofferson’s music through the late seventies and early eighties was a mix of outlaw country and sexy grooves for men who take their shirts off a lot in mixed company and the women who don’t mind.

“Repossessed” changes gears, keeping the mix of country and contemporary rock but with a stronger focus on the slow wear of years on the human heart. These are songs for the weary and the worn out, laced with a thread of social activism and stoic resistance that has always been a key part of Kristofferson’s sound.

The most heartbroken of all is “Shipwrecked in the Eighties” a song about one of Kristofferson’s long-standing causes; the fate of Vietnam veterans. In 1986, it had only been ten years since the end of that war and the horrors were still fresh in the minds of those unfortunate to have fought in it. Through it all, Kristofferson’s vocals meander with their gravelly truth:

“Well you fight like the devil to just keep your head above water
Chained to whatever you got that you can’t throw away
And you’re shooting through space on this river of life that you’re riding
And it’s whirling and sucking you deeper on down every day.”

The song is a mix of a guitar strum on the high strings, with an organ providing the bass notes. The beat drags with a weary doom, punctuated by a mournful harmonica that keeps the wound fresh. Kristofferson likens post-traumatic stress with death by drowning, and it is not a quick death.

On “Anthem ‘84” Kristofferson sings from the perspective of a soldier who has kept himself together, only to find his partner is losing herself. The soldier brings a foxhole mentality to the situation, and maybe the kind of toughness and inner strength needed to withstand it:

“If you’re looking for a fighter who’ll defend you
And love you for your freedom, I’m your man
I ain’t gonna leave you for the crazy things you’re doin’
Don’t ask me to lend a helping hand.”

Like “Shipwrecked in the Eighties,” “Anthem ‘84’” is buoyed by long lines of sprung rhythm that lilt along to Kristofferson’s rough vocals. He sings like he’s just taken a shot of whiskey, with a homespun truth that comes from having done it all, and lived to see the other side.

“Repossessed” has a lot of tough love about it, but it is still very much about love. When on “The Heart” Kristofferson sings “If they deal you down and dirty in a way you don’t deserve/You’ll feel better if you take it like a man” it may seem callous, but this brand of stoicism has gotten me through more than a few bad patches. He’s like that rough and kindly uncle that catches you crying out back but pretends he didn’t, and invites you to come out back and shoot some cans. Feels good to shoot some cans, and if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s OK. He’s just gonna be there in case you do.

I suspect for a lot of people this record comes off as a bit schmaltzy and there are places where Kristofferson probably crosses that line, but overall his honesty wins through. If it sounds schmaltzy it’s just because when manly vampire-killin’ real men like Kris Kristofferson show their feels it can be a bit awkward. But it is all the more real for that awkwardness. Because of this I forgive this record its excesses when they happen.

For an album made in 1986, “Repossessed” is surprisingly free of drum machine and synth fuzz and I was happy for their absence. It is still a bit tinny in places, but overall this album has a grounded feel that was missing from a lot of other artists of similar vintage at the time.

Most of all, it is a reminder that being tough and sensitive may seem like opposites, but really they’re yin and yang and you’ll need both of them to stay upright on life’s long road. There are records that do it better, but “Repossessed” a gruff charm to its delivery that is warm and real.

Best tracks - Repossessed: Shipwrecked in the Eighties, They Killed Him, What About Me, Anthem ’84, The Heart

Third World Warrior

What’s up with the Cover?:  Kristofferson is a master of the Giant Head cover, and this could be his crowning achievement. This head is real big, and real haggard.

Ratings:  3 stars

The other great thing about obscurity is you can say whatever you like, and on “Third World Warrior” Kris Kristofferson does just that, launching into a politically charged album without hesitation or apology.

The album opens with “The Eagle and the Bear” where Kristofferson makes it clear that he doesn’t care about either major superpower – his interest is in the regular folks who suffer whenever nations clash:

“I will fight and I will die for freedom
Up against an eagle or a bear
I will help my brother and we’ll sink or swim together
If you don’t like it mister, I don’t care.”

The song is grounded in a solemn piano piece, but in the background the snap of the snare is Kristofferson’s call to action.

Central America (particularly El Salvador and Nicaragua) feature prominently throughout the record as does the apartheid regime in South Africa and many of the songs have a protest sing-a-long quality that calls to mind rallies and placards.

In many places on the album Kristofferson just talks over the music, naming a wide mix of heroes (among them Gary Cooper, John Kennedy, Martin Luther, Malcolm X and Jesus) or calling out various things he wants fixed in the world. This was a bit jarring, because the songs are strong enough on their own in making their point, and the spoken word sections feel more like rhetoric than poetry.

Kristofferson dedicates an entire song to then-prominent politician Jesse Jackson, who was fresh from pursuing a run for president back in 1988. It is an upbeat celebration even though lines like “They ain’t ready for you yet, but it’s a start” showcase Kristofferson’s disappointment that Jackson wasn’t chosen to represent the Democrats (that was Michael Dukakis). It’s too bad Willie Nelson gets a guest verse. Willie seems like a nice guy and all, but as I just noted on my Rhiannon Giddens review, I’m not a fan of his voice.

The album has some beautiful background vocal work in places and I regret that the combined efforts of the liner notes and internet did not reveal specifically who it was. Whoever does those soulful shouts deep in the mix – thank you!

As you might expect from an album with a lot of songs about Central America, there are plenty of Spanish and Caribbean rhythms and you can smell the beach and the blue seas of lands that have always been luckier in their climate than their political stability. Sometimes these rhythms worked, and other times they were too processed and artificial as eighties production finally caught up with Kristofferson.

Whatever you think about any of the issues Kristofferson raises, you have to admire him for his fearlessness. This album covers a lot of uncomfortable topics back in 1990 and much of his traditional fan-base would have preferred he stuck to shaking ribbons from pretty ladies hair and singing about hangovers. He doesn’t care. Kristofferson pokes the bear, scoffs at the eagle and makes his points forcefully and without apology.

Best tracks – Third World Warrior: The Eagle and the Bear, Don’t let the Bastards (Get You Down), Jesse Jackson (Sung with Willie Nelson)

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