"Light In The Attic Records" - a reissue label out of Seattle in the USA - has been building up a steady and loyal audience of music connoisseurs since 2002. Their releases cover many genres of music and are often reissues of ultra-rarities - obscure albums and artists that actually deserve reappraisal (their Karen Dalton, Rodriguez and Lou Bond issues are good examples).
And they are clearly proud of their 50th release - why? Because the first thing you notice about the gatefold card sleeve is the bulge in the left flap - the booklet is 60-pages long - I'll repeat that - SIXTY PAGES LONG! I've seen Bear Family inners reach as much as 40 pages for a single rhythm 'n' blues CD (which is impressive), but this is something else. But to the details first...
Released May 2010 on CD (produced by Mark Long and Matt Sullivan), Light In The Attic LITA 050 has taken over 5 years to compile and breaks down as follows (51:47 minutes):
1. Me And Bobby McGee [5:12 minutes]
2. Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends [3:19 minutes, with False Start]
3. Smile At Me Again [2:34 minutes] (lyrics above)
4. The Lady's Not For Sale [3:45 minutes]
5. Border Lord [3:58 minutes]
6. Just The Other Side Of Nowhere [2:40 minutes]
7. Come Sundown [3:19 minutes]
8. Slow Down [2:29 minutes]
9. If You Don't Like Hank Williams [1:50 minutes]
10. Little Girl Lost [3:23 minutes]
11. Duvalier's Dream [2:31 minutes]
12. When I Loved Her [2:47 minutes]
13. Billy Dee [2:55 minutes]
14. Epitaph (Black And Blue) [3:25 minutes]
15. Enough For You [2:40 minutes] [with studio chatter]
16. Getting By, High, And Strange [4:57 minutes] [with False Starts & Dialogues]
1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15 and 16 are solo acoustic recordings
3, 5, 8 and 12 are band recordings
The sound quality is a little rough on some tracks, but most of the acoustic demos are beautifully clear and amazingly free of recording glitches. The band material is good too and the occasional studio chatter and false starts lend a lovely intimacy to it all.
The booklet opens with interviews from Dennis Hopper, Kinky Friedman and Merle Haggard - then has a huge essay on the release by label-founder Michael Simmons which is followed by Kristofferson's own dictated notes on every song (lyrics are provided, but the recording details are oddly sketchy). In-between all these words are loads of superb period photos - the young country singer with friends and like-minded musicians, hand-written lyric pages and even passport details... It's one of the best presentations I've ever seen.
Lyrically Kristofferson's as sharp as Dylan and as caustic as Cash - "...nothing looks as empty as a motel bed..." (from Smile At Me Again), "...she's got six gold records and been married seven times" (from Slow Down) and "...I like Bobby Gentry and that sexy Mama Cass, but if you don't like Hank Williams buddy, you can kiss my ass..." These are songs about whiskey-drinking loose women and needle-chasing young men who are "...driven towards the darkness by the devils in his veins..." (from Billy Dee). Great stuff...and smart too.
The stark piano playing of Donnie Fritts accompanies Kristofferson's lone guitar on "Epitaph (Black And Blue)" - it was written for Joplin after she died and obviously played with real pain and hurt. And then there's the opposite - great fun with Billy Swan on the last track about women on construction sites in New York - a tape box that was rescued from Swan's shed.
Obviously LITA are hoping that this release will warrant a reappraisal of Kristofferson as a major writing force - but I don't know if that's going to happen. Some of it is good, some a bit weak, but the better stuff is truly fantastic - it really is. And as I listen and re-listen to these songs - I'm reminded of Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska" and Johnny Cash's "American Recordings" - albums I adore - and I'm sure many of their fans hold them precious too - being a true representation of their inner voices precisely because they're so raw and stripped-down.
As he finishes singing the highly emotional words to "Enough For You" - he stops and says (rather impressed with himself) - "Was that just perfect!" And at times it's hard not to agree.
A major release from a wonderful reissue label then - and an award-winning presentation. They've done the man proud.