Friday, September 5, 2008

Chris Knight - Heart Of Stone

For the uninitiated, I have an awesome sister. The awesomeness is a general component of her bearing, but every once in a while, it really flares up. Let's backtrack a bit. There aren't a lot of people that recommend music to me, mostly because I get a ton of it sent my way but also due in large part to my inability to rein in my sneering contempt for stuff I don't like. It's a gift. I don't normally subject my sister to it, but what I'm trying to get to is that ten years ago my sister told me to check out Chris Knight and I was shocked that I hadn't heard of him. Granted, he only had his self-titled debut in the racks, but he was a obviously a strong, strong songwriter with a staggeringly good debut record. 

House And 90 Acres was the single from his eponymous debut that got Knight the most attention. It didn't hurt that one of the first places he played it live was at Farm Aid. His record's Mellencamp-ian populist politics resonated with the thousands of attendees and Knight was off to the races. He's sold a respectable amount, but has been much more successful with the songs that have been covered (more often than not inferiorly) by a gang of mainstream country artists ranging from Randy Travis to Montgomery Gentry. While it's sometimes shocking how poorly done some of those covers are, it must undoubtedly be what Steve Earle would call 'a financial pleasure' for the man, if nothing else.

I found the next three or four Chris Knight records to be kind of hit or miss. One day I heard Louie playing what I was pretty sure was a new Knight song at Academy. He was quick to say how great it was and even took it off the house system to sell to me the advance. That's a good man, there. It's nice to know that every once in while, being a record store hanger-on has it's privileges. That record ended up being Enough Rope and it was real good. As luck would have it, Knight was in town a week just or so later at Mercury. It's a slippery slope for Knight up North, so a lot of times it just him and another guitar. That was the case this evening and the ease with which the duo slayed the room asserted one thing absolutely: Knight's mainstream fans are a rabid lot. It's appropriate, as most of them are dyed-in-the-wool, straight up woodchucks. 

Knight's average NYC crowd is terrifying in a lot of ways. Don't get me wrong, my background is far from royalty and I have all the respect in the world for hillbillies and their redneck ilk. Say what you want, I wouldn't want to live that life, but at least they are real. I would willingly take a crowd of them over four or five of the haircuts that Drew and I saw at Guitar Center yesterday. That qualified, Knight's most fervent fans appear to have arrived by freight-car straight from Appalachia. Most of them are female and they will shout and caterwaul like strays in heat from the moment he takes the stage, thankfully clamming-up instantaneously the minute he steps to the mike. His is a classic country voice with a Kentucky edge that deserves every bit of the adulation it receives. 

Heart Of Stone is the most fully realized Chris Knight record yet, with the best mix of hooks and populist sentiment he's ever put together. Starting with a couple of solid midtempo tracks, it picks up a solid head of steam with the title track and Almost There. Maria and Miles To Memphis up the ante even more and by the time you reach the closing Go On Home, there's no chance you won't immediately hit play again. Knight is a little bit left of center of mainstream country music, but he is country the same way Steve Earle and Gary Allan are, and that's not a bad place to be. You have a dedicated fanbase, you don't have to play real shitty places and everybody wants to cover your songs. Doesn't sound like a bad deal for a guy with ten or twelve charted covers who still lives on his family's ancestral Kentucky land. 

Knight will be up this way in November. He vowed to bring a full band this time, but I'm pretty sure that gas prices will make it a solo show. For a lot of performers, that might be an iffy proposition, but you have nothing to worry about with this Kentucky boy. You've got some time before he's in town, so while you're waiting, buy Heart Of Stone here and check out the links below for gang of other audio-visual delights.


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