“dreaming was as easy as believing it was never gonna end”
I couldn’t discern a choice lyric for a pull-quote atop my previous entry, but this guy’s a poet, and this is the line that leapt out at me. This is my lone Kristofferson LP (though I’ve got Willie’s mostly tasteful KK songbook album too, if sometimes beset by Hollywood harmonica) and seemed like the one to get for the songs I wanted from Cisco Pike (1972). And it’s the first and last time I’ve damaged an album cover by using a razor blade to open an LP mailer, slashing the handsome young troubadour’s face. But I don’t know the record that well, though I remembered it being mostly free of my hangups about singer-songwriter albums of this era…
A parlor piano tone is not my favorite, but here it is driving the loping title track, mercifully stopping short of the novelty number I associate with the instrument. Actually, it’s a pretty honest and funny song about trying to keep the rascal at bay when courting a lady. I have a hard time with strings—they weren’t right for Billie Holiday or Charlie Parker—and “Jody and The Kid” doesn’t need ’em either. Not sure why so many performers, discovered playing in saloons or signed on the merits of songwriting demos, are so insistently gussied up with overproduction. On this count, the lovable junkie “Billy Dee” works best for me, with the most down-to-earth instrumentation including a real cool electric piano. “Good Christian Soldier” is the one tune not penned by Kristofferson, but rather his buddies Bobby Bare and Billy Joe Shaver, and these guys were doing each other’s songs left and right at the time, and in this case the co-writers’ respective early-70s versions best this.
The songs on side two are really what got me here, particularly “Loving Her Was Easier,” overdubbed with strings and flute ferchrissakes, but that’s Nashville for you. Not to dwell too much on what’s not here, but this, his greatest song, was played on television appearances employing pedal steel or organ—the ultimate version being that from The Johnny Cash Show—I rarely ask, where’s Rick Rubin when you need him? Instead we get mariachi horns borrowed from “Ring of Fire” on “The Taker.” The man alone counts off “When I Loved Her” and for a verse it’s just him, but you know it’s not gonna last. I wanted to believe Charlie McCoy (second guitar on “Desolation Row”!) was above Hollywood harmonica, but even his playing comes off as pretty corny. I’m not proud to admit first getting acquainted with this song through Claudine Longet, but her version might even be less saccharine than this. Things look up on the unadorned “The Pilgrim—Chapter 33” and the only thing accompanying Kristofferson’s voice for most of “Epitaph (Black and Blue)” is Donnie Fritt’s electric piano, and he rightfully gets a co-writer credit for it, but for no good reason insidious strings come in for a verse, only to be gone again by the end.
Some of these records I have only foggy notions on, and I never know what my reaction is gonna be when setting the needle down. Part of me thinks I’m just being a reactionary jerk, but Cisco Pike had stripped down versions of these tunes. Or maybe this is how Kristofferson always heard these in his head, and he woulda hired a string section for the Cash show had it been feasible. On a different Sunday morning, I may be more charitable to this perfectly pleasant album, but it could have been timeless, and there’s a reason guitar, bass and drums don’t date themselves like orchestrated pop.