When Rick Rubin trekked down to record Johnny Cash in his living room back in 1993, he unwittingly set off a trend: Performers from America’s pop past, ranging from Solomon Burke to Bettye LaVette, from Mose Allison to Charlie Louvin, were exhumed, paired with reverent youngsters, and offered a fresh turn in the spotlight. Along with brethren like Willie Nelson (see Teatro) and Glen Campbell (Ghost on the Canvas), Kris Kristofferson received a similar treatment with 2009′s rustic and stripped-back Closer to the Bone. Recorded again by Don Was, Feeling Mortal continues along the same track — contemplative and pensive, yet without a trace of regret as he looks across over his 76 years.
“Wide awake and feeling mortal/ at this moment in the dream,” Kristofferson sings the album’s first line, in a creaking voice as stoic and weathered as a butte. He goes on to sing of an empty blue horizon and an imminent descent “like the sun into the sea,” contemplating both the cosmic and the earthbound. Rendered with a six-piece backing band, what stands out is Kristofferson’s eye for detail, which remains whetted after all these years. He considers his blind “Mama Stewart,” how she can still see that “everything is new and full of wonder and surprise,” and keeps such a lesson close to heart over the course of Mortal‘s ten songs. So while the music is somber on “You Don’t Tell Me What to Do,” Kristofferson still has some kick left: “Losing myself in the soul of a song/ And the fight for the right to be righteously wrong.” In such tough, stubborn lines, the man comes around, remaining defiant to the end.