1998 CD REVIEW
CHRIS KNIGHT (DECCA-UNIVERSAL).
CHRIS - A GOOD KNIGHT WITH A HOUSE AND 90 ACRES
“I've got a house and 90 acres/ some cattle in the barn/ two kids with no mama/ she left in a salesman's arms/ a sign by the mail box says/ there's an auction in the yard.” - House And 90 Acres - Chris Knight.
Chris Knight lives sparsely in a house trailer by the Green River about seven miles outside the tiny former mining town of Slaughters , Kentucky .
Knight has a degree in agriculture from a Bowling Green university and toiled for six years as a strip mine inspector by day while writing songs and playing at night.
But it wasn't until Chris performed a showcase at the famed Bluebird Café in Nashville in 1991 he attracted publisher Frank Liddell.
Knight, a supreme lyricist, had a rich undeveloped catalogue which won over Liddell who was long aware of Music Row's propensity to burn out its best mavericks.
Chris's songs were cut by artists diverse as Randy Travis, The Yahoos , Gary Allan, Confederate Railroad , John Anderson, Lee Ann Womack, Blake Shelton and Australian singer Mitchell Shadlow as his reputation grew.
Now, after a seven year incubation period, the Liddell produced self-titled Decca debut disc has borne fruit with release here by Universal .
The wait is well worth it for lovers of quality kicker country - acts like Steve Earle, Charlie & Bruce Robison, David Lee Murphy, John Prine, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Tom Pacheco, John Gorka, Jack Ingram and Pat Green.
Knight tills his hillbilly hideaway for fertile phosphate that fuels real life dramas from the eyes and ears of a survivor.
“I try to write songs about what I know,” says Knight, then 38.
“And what I know is Slaughters and the folks I grew up with. I use the things they did and the stories they told and blow them up a bit.”
The singer's characters are small town and farm denizens who leap to life with tales of their life in the rural fast lane.
It Ain't Easy Being Me sets the mood - the character dreams of being the mayor of Sorryville and acts out misery accompanying such a position.
“I don't know what inspired me to write it, but I remember sitting down and hollering out the first couple of lines one morning before I went to work,” Knight revealed of the song source.
“I'd get up early in the morning and I'd get me a cup of coffee and I'd start writing. And I remember hollering out saying the first couple of lines of Ain't Easy Being Me , and then setting it aside. And then I took it down and showed it to Craig Wiseman and then we just took off from there. He liked the idea and everything, so we went from there.”
The logging trucker in Framed , released here on Shadlow's debut disc, protests his innocence until the chilling climax.
A country sheriff, who splits with his wife and rescues a pitiful prostitute on parole in Love And A 45 is an equally gripping tale penned by Knight and Canadian Fred Eaglesmith.
The sheriff rescues the hooker from a bayside motel battery, takes her home to recover and fudges his paper work with aplomb - “the report he filed said victim unknown/ now she waits up nights for him to come home.”
There's another long haul truckie in The Hammer Going Down - also exposed on the excellent Black Dog movie soundtrack - who yearns for his family home fires in the bluegrass state.
BRING THE HARVEST HOME
“And all that time in California / it was just a waste of seed/ I left everything I cared for neglected in the weeds/ but my love for sweet Rebecca just keeps growing on me/ and it's time I bring the harvest home.” - Bring The Harvest Home - Chris Knight.
The River's Own finds the son picking up the flame of his late farmer father to protect their riverside land from the greedy government.
William is a traumatic tale of a white trash family abuse victim who repeats the sins of his father - the loser leaves behind a wife and two hungry children when he meets his Waterloo when he is gunned down by a cop in a local drug store robbery.
There's not a dud track on this riveting debut.
Something Changed is a regret tinged trip back to a home town where the character's former belle walks down the aisle with another beau.
Summer Of 75 - penned with Highway Junkie collaborators Sam and Annie Tate - is also a nostalgia laced tale of a seasonal romance on Locust Street that still resonates as a vibrant vignette.
2001 CD REVIEW
A PRETTY GOOD GUY (DUALTONE).
HARD TIMES ON THE LORD'S HIGHWAY
“I used to burn the devil's gasoline/ on the back streets of this town/ I did not have no road map/ till Jesus flagged me down/ I'm on the Lord's Highway.” - The Lord's Highway - Chris Knight.
That segues into the title track A Pretty Good Guy where the noble hero has a double - a contrast to the pugilists in Oil Patch Town who settle their duel in the local cemetery before being disturbed by state troopers and the sheriff.
Send A Boat finds the Bible resurrected for the mother and child in a recurring domestic abuse cycle with no winners.
The femme fatale in Hard Candy is perfectly cast - a moonshiner's daughter in a Pike county coal-mining community who finds true love with the narrator while her sire is back in jail again.
But in Down The River the character avenges his elder brother who wins a pool hall brawl against a bully but is shot by the fight loser while tending fishing pots and trot lines on the inland waterway.
The victim's body is never found so the younger brother returns to the scene of the crime and fires summary justice from his gun and then chains the bully to an anvil and cuts him loose in the same river.
In If I Were You the homeless, penniless narrator plays an outlaw who eases his poverty at gunpoint while guilt kicks in on North Dakota where a snowfall claims a woman who perishes while seeking wood to keep the winter home fires burning for her absent man.
Knight name checks the late Roger Miller in Highway Junkie where the state trooper discovers the speeding truckie is not en route to a fire but instead fleeing an old flame.
The singer's outlaw takes the rap for a wife and children left behind in an armed liquor store robbery in Blame Me - maybe the role reversal is the sting in the tail of the tale.
But redemption returns on the Dan Baird produced disc in fitting finale - The Lord's Highway - where the character's soul is saved by a higher being on a Kentucky hilltop.
“I used to pack an old switchblade/ had a pistol in my coat/ now all I got is this good book/ the only weapon that I tote/ on the Lord's Highway.”
2006 CD REVIEW
ENOUGH ROPE (DRIFTER'S CHURCH).
JACK BLUE PUTS BRIDLES ON BULLS
“Well I woulda bought my Grandpa's farm/ but I couldn't raise enough cash/ now they're cutting all the timber down/ turning all the rest to ash/ company came in from out of state to build another stinking factory/them county politician think they know/ just exactly what we need.” - Dirt - Chris Knight-Cunningham.
It's a sibling song of Old Man where the farmer's five children are scattered to the wind after he loses his wife and is left with his old horse and young chickens on a dead end track on a farm he worked from the age of 24.
Those narratives occupy the middle of this memorable disc that kicks off with Jack Blue - the tale of a pool player hunted by the sheriff after he wins a fight with two intruders, one left with 57 stitches in his hide.
Jack ages gracefully, drinking ice tea while working in his yard and teaching his progeny to avoid brawls and other trouble.
But Knight also explores romance in the lover who cries wolf in Cry Lonely, the character rescued from addiction by a good woman in Saved By Love and the cinder block juke joint where the weekend warrior takes his belle down a road to where the ferry used to leave for the city in River Road .
The character in Rural Route shoots a beer can full of lead while talking to God after he's trapped when the river is up, the road is closed and the lights are off and no phone in his mother's home.
A sibling maybe of Up From The Hill where the drunken dude with a copperhead in his burlap bag and a six string guitar on his back had two choices - the church house by the track or the only other house he will be welcomed.
“His faith is stronger than a rattlesnake bite/ but he won't touch strychnine now.”
But there is whimsy in Knight's artillery in Bridle On A Bull that becomes a metaphor for an upmarket woman scared to leave her house when she sees her beau lugging a suitcase.
“One shot from a lawman's gun/ my father paid for the things he'd done/ mama god old when she was 21/ I was born alone/ I'm William's son/ back and forth to the foster home/ till I figured out I was better off alone.” - William's Son - Chris Knight.
A familiar story that translates across the ocean here and segues into yet another fitting finale - the title track Enough Rope.
It's here that Knight inhabits a career path that was not first choice for the graduate who finds out his girlfriend is pregnant on his 18 th birthday and they wed.
Instead of chasing his academic dreams the character is indentured to the local mayor where he works a back hoe, works at the city dump and mows the courthouse lawns.
But his message has a caveat - he is relieved to be working for the mayor rather than being in captivity like the prisoners inside the court-house.
“I'm happy to working instead of wearing chains/ like my cousin Willie, he's locked up in La Grange .”
Yes a happy ending of sorts for a disc that features a stellar cast including producer Nicholson, Kenny Greenberg, Richard Bennett and Pat Buchanan on guitar, Dan Dugmore on pedal steel and lap slide guitar, bassist Michael Rhodes, drummer Greg Morrow and Tammy Rogers-King on viola and violin.
The vocal threads on Enough Rope are pulled together by Jon Randall Stewart, Ashley Cleveland and Tom Littlefield.
CHRIS KNIGHT UPDATE
His backwoods song-stories begin in Slaughters, an agricultural town of about 200, that basked in the region coal boom before the high-sulfur rock of the area became politically incorrect with the EPA.
Down the road and over the hill, only 35 miles away, is the birthplace of Bill Monroe.
When he was three years old, he asked for a plastic guitar for Christmas.
Chris was about 15 when his older brother, who worked second shift in the coal mines and drank beer till dawn, bought himself a guitar.
It was a funky box, the strings about half an inch above the neck, good blister-forming, callus-building strings.
"I come home from school one day and there was a gee-tar there and a chord book, and I started playing that day," he recalled.
His brother was too busy pulling coal and drinking beer to worry about sharing his box.
Besides, Chris says, "He played it whenever he could get away from me."
His big brother noticed Chris was picking up on this guitar stuff pretty good and bought him a 1975 Martin Sigma .
"I was supposed to pay him back for it. I don't know whether I ever did or not," he says.
Knight earned a degree in agriculture from Western Kentucky University .
He worked for ten years as a mine reclamation inspector and miner's consultant for Kentucky Department of Surface Mining.
He learned the John Prine songbook and played for family and friends.
But music didn't seize him until years later when he graduated from Western Kentucky with an agriculture degree and began writing one night and didn't stop, giving his characters their stories.
LEE ANN WOMACK
Knight doesn't reside in Nashville but the singer-songwriter hangs and writes with Music City 's beloved residents including Texan born Lee Ann Womack.
You Lie When You Call My Name is a product of the pair's work, and appears on Chris' eighth album, Little Victories .
"When I was on Decca she was on MCA ," Knight revealed.
"That's when I met her and we started going out when I would be in town. I got to know her a little bit there, and then she got real big.
Her husband, producer Frank Liddell, got us together to write down there at Carnival Music .
She was cutting an album and we went in and wrote that song. I liked it, so I decided to put it on my album."
Womack recorded several Knight songs on her eighth album The Way I'm Living .
They include Send It On Down - the second single written by Knight with David Leone.
It took Knight four years to release eighth album Little Victories in 2012.
Long-time musical hero John Prine sings on the title track.
Buddy Miller plays guitar and sings on Missing You and Nothing on Me .
The album was produced by Grammy winner Ray Kennedy - his first new material in more than four years.
He wrote or co-wrote each of the songs on the album.
Throughout the project, Chris tells the tale of the current socio-economic climate of his hometown of Slaughters, Kentucky where he lives with his family.
His lyrics mirror the current economic climate across the country and relate to the lives of hard-working people everywhere.
Knight is well known in Texas for writing Montgomery Gentry hit She Couldn't Change Me and because of his fame in Texas , was named an Honorary Texan in 2006 by Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Chris Knight (1998)
A Pretty Good Guy (2001)
The Jealous Kind (2003)
Enough Rope (2006)
The Trailer Tapes (2007)
Heart of Stone (2008)
Trailer II (2009)
Little Victories (2012)