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KRIS KRISTOFFERSON; "A Moment of Forever" (Justice Records). * * *

With Nelson Mandela now free and some semblance of democracy invading such political hotspots as El Salvador and Nicaragua, it kind of makes you wonder if there are any causes remaining for folksingers of a certain stripe to champion.

Kris Kristofferson has made a career out of blending social consciousness with a Hank Williams-esque songwriting style to create a volatile gumbo of folk, rock, country and political activism. He was the proverbial angry young man, and he was better at expressing it than most.

Somewhat grayer but no less idealistic, Kristofferson's latest offering, "A Moment of Forever," is an eclectic collection of love songs, tributes to fallen heros, reminiscences and prophecies and idealism weighted down by the realities of human frailties.

Under the direction of Don Was, arguably the finest producer in the business, "A Moment of Forever" features some of the best melodies Kristofferson has ever penned. Songs like "Worth Fighting For" and "Casey's Last Ride" and "Shipwrecked in the Eighties" are brilliant expressions of a troubled poet finding purpose in a chaotic world.

There is a world-weary wisdom here. On "Slouching Toward the Millennium," Kristofferson laments, "They've driven off the fools and saints/and now they've stole the show/it's all a bloody circus, mates/and clowns are in control."

There is a sense of purpose on "Between Heaven and Here," where he observes, "wasting our feelings on something/when so little matters/think of the time and the chances/we're throwing away/we can do better than this/we can go for the glory/I hope to God we can handle/the worst of our fears."

Weariness is the theme of "Road Warrior's Lament," where he offers the testament, "My soul is weary from the fight/My God, I've tried and I've been true/my love I'm coming home to you."

As with other Kristofferson recordings, "A Moment of Forever" suffers from predictability and occasional monotony. The songs have the same cadence, the same slightly inebriated vocal style, the same sense of madness.

Most of the time, however, "A Moment of Forever" rises above self-righteous preaching to reveal a poet's inner turmoil and tireless pursuit of dreams that may remain as illusive as freedom itself. Kristofferson may be a tired warrior, but he's as relevant today as he was in the 1960s.

RATINGS: four stars (* * * * ), excellent; three stars (* * * ), good; two stars (* * ), fair; one star (* ), poor, with 1/2 representing a higher, intermediate grade.