Broken Freedom Song: Live from San Francisco

Kris Kristofferson

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Broken Freedom Song: Live from San Francisco Review

by Thom Jurek

There are many who can claim that since Kris Kristofferson never had much of a singer's voice, his songs were always better served by someone else's interpretation. This view is dead wrong, however. While Kristofferson may not possess a golden throat, that doesn't mean he isn't a great singer. He is. No one sings his material -- with the possible exception of Willie Nelson's interpretation of "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and Janis Joplin's "Me & Bobby McGee" -- better than he does. (No, Johnny Cash's read of "Sunday Morning Coming Down" wasn't forgotten in the list, and it's a good one, but Kristofferson's is devastating.) Broken Freedom Song features the singer/songwriter in a stark yet romantic setting, accompanied only by guitarist and mandolinist Stephen Bruton and Keith Caper on bass. Both musicians provide backing vocals, and Kristofferson accompanies himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica. He has never been in better voice, and the collection of songs here is stellar. Along with "Darby's Castle," the title track, "Here Comes That Rainbow Again," and "Shandy" are four new songs, such as "The Circle," written after two significant events, the story of the disappeared ones (los Olvidados) in Argentina and the late Iraqi artist Layla Al-Attar, who was killed during the Clinton administration's bombing of Baghdad--the pilots missed the target. Al-Attar's name, and those of her husband and children, were never mentioned in the American press.

Also, "Sky King," a song sung by Vietnam veterans during the war and others later, is a perennial live offeriing by Kristofferson that's never been recorded before; finally "Sandinista" from the excellent Third World Warrior album offers a widely divergent view of the truth about Nicaragua from the U.S. government's. And herein lies the beauty of this recording: It was never planned as a live album and features none of the "hits" except for the title track. It was recorded as a way to find a track for a Bread and Roses Foundation compilation. Broken Freedom Sing a record of love songs and topical protest tomes. But there's no placard-waving here. Kristofferson is a humanist and an intimate performer who doesn't give a damn whether people agree with him or not, nor does he presume he's right or superior. He asks questions and feels it important to preserve the names of victims in historical memory. And he asks a lot of questions here, amiably but unflinchingly. He also engages his audience so intimately that it feels as if he's playing in somebody's back yard. This is easily one of Kris Kristofferson's finest moments on record; it's the way a songwriter's album should be done -- full of unpretentious songs that offer wisdom, a sense of community and empathy, and a performance that is as soulful and humorous and humble as they come.

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