Various Artists

Nothing Left to Lose: A Tribute to Kris Kristofferson

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By several nautical miles one of the most inspired and genuinely listenable tribute records ever compiled, Nothing Left to Lose reaffirms Kris Kristofferson's stature among the finest songwriters American music has ever produced. What separates the set from lesser tributes is that it affirms the mutability and elasticity of Kristofferson's songs -- so many tribute records fall short because they make it painfully clear that no one but the original artists themselves should rightfully perform the music in question, but it takes nothing away from Kristofferson's own recordings to note that his compositions bloom and blossom in the hands of others. The collection achieves a pitch-perfect balance between faithful homage and radical reinterpretation -- there are a handful of missteps (ZMRZLINA's overdone electronic reworking of "Me and Bobby McGee" chief among them), but the highlights are abundant and variegated. The Handsome Family's opening rendition of arguably Kristofferson's best song, "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," plays it straight, but a pair of Califone contributions -- "Border Lord" and "Nobody Wins," the latter a radiantly sensuous collaboration with Rebecca Gates -- turns the material inside out, emphasizing electronic beats and textures to the exclusion of the acoustic guitars that largely dominate the set. The Radar Brothers ("Help Me Make It Through the Night"), Deanna Varagona ("Burden of Freedom"), and Richard Buckner ("Lovin' Her Was Easier [Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again]") turn in typically stellar contributions, but it's not only headline acts in the mix -- virtual unknown Virgil Shaw's "Just the Other Side of Nowhere" is as good as anything here.

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