He’s 76, so, sure, Kris Kristofferson is feeling mortal. Over the last several years, however, that feeling has resharpened his muse, resulting in his best work since the ’60s and ’70s, when he introduced a new poetic lyricism to country music. Feeling Mortal is no exception — it’s the first great album of 2013.
As on 2006’s This Old Road and 2009’s Closer to the Bone, producer Don Was puts Kristofferson in the best possible light. He highlights the aging troubadour’s craggy grace with spare arrangements that fit his conversational delivery and heighten the intimacy of these songs about life, love and hard-earned wisdom. (Not all of them are new: Two have 1970s copyrights, which makes for a nice linking of his two golden ages.)
Kristofferson may be feeling mortal, but that’s also freeing, and so the silver-haired devil doesn’t sound as though he’s ready to quit anytime soon, as he indicates on You Don’t Tell Me What to Do. And while Ramblin’ Jack pays tribute to his friend Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Kristofferson could also be singing about himself: “And I know he ain’t afraid of where he’s going/ And I’m sure he ain’t ashamed of where he’s been/ … And he made his own mistakes, and love, and friends/ Ain’t that what matters in the end.”
— Nick Cristiano
Los Angeles Police Officer Scott James and his partner, Stephanie Anders, were searching for an all-night noodle house late one night when they ran straight into a gunbattle.
Five masked men were raking a Bentley with automatic weapons. The officers jumped from their patrol car to intervene, but when the shooting was over, Stephanie lay dead in the street, and Scott was badly wounded.
On the other side of the world, Maggie, an 85-pound German shepherd trained to sniff out explosives, went on alert as an old man approached her Marine patrol. Before the dog and her handler could stop him, the man detonated a bomb he’d concealed beneath his clothing. As Maggie stood guard over her dying master, terrorists shot her.
Months later, Scott and Maggie, both hobbling from their wounds and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (yes, dogs get it, too), are a new team in the Los Angeles police department’s K-9 platoon. Defying orders, they set out to solve Stephanie’s unsolved murder.
Crais, one of the masters of modern crime fiction, unwinds his plot slowly at first, devoting the first half of the book to developing the relationship between the two damaged but determined partners. But in the second half, the suspense is high and the pace blistering.
Still, the best part is the interaction between Scott and Maggie as they struggle to overcome PTSD; learn to trust, love and rely on one another; and discover that each offers the other the best chance for a new start.
Maggie is a strong character, with Crais even writing several chapters from her point of view. This risky device would be a disaster in a lesser writer’s hands, but Crais, who did a lot of research about dog behavior and psychology, pulls it off brilliantly.
The result is a story that is action-packed, deeply touching and sure to be one of the best-written and most original crime novels of the year.
— Bruce DeSilva
Yo La Tengo
It’s possible at this point to consider Yo La Tengo as a musical version of Michael Apted’s long-running Up series, documentaries that since 1964 have followed the same 14 children as they’ve grown and changed. Started in Hoboken, N.J., by guitarist husband Ira Kaplan and drummer wife Georgia Hubley, Yo La Tengo has been documenting lives through music for a quarter of a century now, creating solid, virtually unimpeachable rock ’n’ roll that offers a model for dual creativity.
On the 13th Yo La Tengo album, the couple works through complicated emotions with as much elegance and grace as ever. A gentle record featuring strings, humming keyboards, the gorgeous roaming bass lines of longtime member James McNew and the occasional muted brass section, Fade is classic Yo La Tengo: honest, unpretentious and, above all, catchy.
At its best — the delicate Cornelia and Jane, the feedback-heavy cruise-pop song Paddle Forward, and the rhythmic, orchestral closer Before We Run — Fade offers reassurance that the band and the couple at its center are as solid and creatively stable as ever. The family that plays together does indeed stay together.
— Randall Roberts
Los Angeles Times