Feeling Mortal is about as honest a title as exists. Kris Kristofferson is 76 years old, and, with the exception of Willie Nelson and a couple of others, his peers -- Mickey Newbury, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Shel Silverstein -- have moved on. There’s a certain loneliness in that. These 12 songs look back over the periods -- and people -- who have graced Kristofferson's amazing life. Minimally produced by Don Was (who helmed 2006’s This Old Road and 2009’s Closer to the Bone), Feeling Mortal boasts a small cadre of studio players. The title track is as fine as any song Kristofferson's written. It directly reflects on a life fully lived and faces death head on. It's a world-weary country song graced with a dobro, a strummed acoustic guitar, and a slow 4/4 rhythm shuffle: "Wide awake and feelin' mortal/At this moment in the dream/That old man there in the mirror/And my shaky self esteem." But it’s not all mournful; there is also deep gratitude in the lyric with an acceptance of the fact that “now,” is as rife with possibility as any other time. There’s stilla bit of the ornery here, too. "You Don’t Tell Me What to Do" is a road song that refuses anything less than absolute freedom. "My Heart Was the Last One to Know" is a co-write with Silverstein, and one of the fine broken love songs that established Kristofferson as one of the great chroniclers of heartbreak in country music."Stairway to the Bottom" and "Just Suppose" find the songwriter’s protagonist talking about himself in the third person; perhaps facing himself in the drunken bleakness of a dirty mirror at 2 A.M. The set finishes with an upbeat and near-stomping country shuffle of "Ramblin’ Jack," a seeming tribute to octogenarian folk singer Ramblin' Jack Elliott. The refrain states: "He ain’t afraid of where he’s goin’/And I know he ain’t ashamed of where he’s been…" which are true of the songwriter, to boot. Most of these songs aren’t new -- Kristofferson says he writes very little now -- but they are unheard, making their recorded debut here. It makes one wonder just how many other gems he has in a desk drawer or on some dusty cassette tape. Based on the soul-satisfying evidence of Feeling Mortal, one can only hope there are many more.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek