Border Lord by Kris Kristofferson was my first taste of country music. In fact I think when I bought this album it was the first time I had stepped out of my musical bubble of that time. It has a slightly darker flavour than what I thought country was till then.
As I remember it I was on my way home from my early shift in a local warehouse when I passed by a charity shop in the town. In the window I saw a bunch of albums and Border Lord was one of them. I think it was the cover that initially drew me to it and at only about £1.50, how could I say no?
When I first listened to this album I was immediately drawn in - I hadn’t heard anything like it before. I had been brought up on a healthy diet of Fleetwood Mac, Meat Loaf and Supertramp; so it was a refreshing addition to my music range. In retrospect I think this was the album that made me start actively searching out different types of music.
The album opens with the song “Josie” which, as best as I can work out from the lyrics, is a song about a man finding himself experiencing his first love with a woman of the night. When I say “as best as I can work out”, I just mean that most of the album’s lyrics are open to interpretation. I tend to see the literal meanings first, as opposed to any metaphor attached. I think it speaks volumes for the album that I can hear it ten years later and still find new things within it.
The next song, “Burden of Freedom”, is a song directed to God by the singer, about either adjusting to life outside of a prison and what it has done to him, or about him taking his own life. This, along with the third song, “Stagger Mountain Tragedy”, are brilliant examples of the fully formed worlds within Kris’ songs that are expertly crafted with these sometimes-cryptic lyrics.
I was born on Stagger Mountain in the sunshine and the snow.
And leavin’ was the first mistake I made;
But I hungered for the shadows in the valley down below.
And the girl that danced the tune the devil played.
Her smile was like the blindin’ light of sunshine on the snow
And the flashin’ of her hair was black as sin.
And her body set the smokes of hell a-boilin’ in my skull.
When the fiddle of the devil made her spin.
opening lyrics from “Stagger Mountain Tragedy”
The rest of the song takes a dark turn that I will let you discover for yourself.
The stand-out song on “Border Lord” for me, is the start of the album’s second half, “Little Girl Lost”. This, like some previous songs, comes across as being from a darker side of love. The song also has one of my favourite tempo changes I’ve ever heard.
“Smokey put the sweat on me” is a great driving song and gives “Border Lord” greater variety. Not that the album gets boring at all, it just gives it a breeze of cool air. It sounds like it would be a great live concert closer too. If you can listen to this song through without either bobbing your head or your feet, or both, then you’re in much more control of your body than I am.
Every album of Kris Kristofferson’s I’ve heard since “Border Lord” I’ve loved. I think my favourite is actually his eponymous debut, but this will always have a special place on my shelf.
Also, on the strength of this album, I travelled up to Edinburgh, from Birmingham, to see him live. He still knows how to command a stage, twang them strings and I even got to shake his hand.