Chris Knight: Heart of Stone

chrisknight_heartofstoneDarkness in the rural heartlands

Having found himself artistically on 2001’s Pretty Good Guy singer-songwriter Chris Knight shook off the major label production of his 1998 self-titled debut and wallowed in his dark visions of rural life. His follow-ups, including a startling album of pre-debut auditions, The Trailer Tapes, have stuck to a similar format of rootsy guitar-based productions backing unblinking chronicles of blue collar America. Knight is often likened to Steve Earle, and the hopelessness in his songs brings to mind Earle’s Guitar Town-era work; but where Earle wrote of kids trapped by the stilted imaginations of limited experience, Knight writes of adults trapped by circumstance and situation. Earle’s protagonists sense there’s something better but don’t know what, while Knight’s are taunted by better lives that remain out of reach.

Knight opens the disc as a touring musician whose road-warrior fortitude has become a callus (“I ain’t home ‘til I leave you behind”) and on “Hell Ain’t Half Full” he’s a hell-bound meth dealer who thinks God’s given up. Knight’s characters carry forward the disappointments and failures of broken childhoods, escaping from dysfunctional relationships but unable to erase their scars. The few rays of light that penetrate Knight’s bleakness are more faith than realization. He sings of a coal miner’s flight from his ancestral home, counting on the belief that “hope runs a straight line down this mountain road” to the ocean. He exults in the opportunity to rekindle a relationship on the up-tempo “Maria,” and takes cold comfort in the scar that’s replaced the relationship of “Miles to Memphis.”

Dan Baird (ex-Georgia Satellites) returns to the producer’s seat, having sat out Knight’s 2006 release Enough Rope, and the sound returns to the determinedly paced, sinewy Americana the two first crafted for Pretty Good Guy. It’s a perfect setting for Knight as the tempos match the relentless extinction of hope in his characters. Given that Knight practiced his writing for several years before recording his debut, it’s unsurprising that in a half-dozen albums his lyrical voice has remained relatively steady. What’s impressive is the wealth of characters and stories he continues to dig up and render in such palpable, three-dimensional emotions. [©2009 hyperbolium dot com]

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