“Chris Knight – Small Victories” by Mayer Danzig

Eli, Todd and Chip share their collective insights on the stellar new release from Chris Knight:

Eli Peterson

Chris Knight is the real deal. Dude is from Slaughters, Kentucky. That’s right. The town is named “Slaughters”. Dude was a mine reclamation inspector for 10 years before he went to Nashville to give songwriting a try. He recorded his first demo tapes, now infamously bootlegged, in a trailer that he lived in on his 90 acre spread in Slaughters. Dude is authentic.

The rap on so-called ‘alternative country’ music is that often the musicians are often singing about a mythical American past that even if it did exist, certainly doesn’t have much relevance to people’s present day experiences. To a certain extent this is certainly true. When Gillian Welch sings about red clay halos or asks us to tear her still house down, it takes a certain amount of suspended disbelief. Now I don’t mean to criticize or highlight Gillian Welch specifically (love you and Dave), but it is an easy example. With Chris Knight, that’s never a problem. When he sang about a “House and 90 Acres” and about being “The River’s Own” on his debut, he wasn’t imagining what it would be like. That was him or at the very least people he knew and probably still knows. Dude is authentic.

Authenticity only goes so far though, but it’s alright ’cause Chris Knight has talent in spades. He is one of best songwriters of his generation and if you don’t believe me, just ask John Prine. That’s Mr. Prine himself crooning along on the title track right dab in the middle of the record. Better yet, Chris Knight has shown an inability to make bad records. Since his debut was released in 1998, he’s been a modicum of consistency. Little Victories is his sixth studio album and is no exception. It distinguishes itself in its rough and ready production as the guitars squall and Knight’s trademark drawl cracks on occasion. The vibrancy makes for an organic sound that fits this collection of angry recession themed songs quite nicely. The standout song for me so far is “Nothing On Me”, where Knight sings, “I’ve rode hard luck/ I’ve been bruised and bucked/ I’ve been hittin’ the ground and turnin’ around/ and gettin’ back up/ and now they’re laying ’em off down at Kankakee/ and there’s boards on the windows up and down the street/ and they’re saying that it’s gonna get darker before the dawn/ but you can bet your ass I’ll keep the lights on/ keep my babies fed and throw my dog a bone/ cuz I’m a bring it on git ‘er done don’t run SOB/ times are tough, but they ain’t got nothin’ on me”

Times are tough, but they ain’t got nothin’ on me. Dude is badass.

Todd Mathis:

I am damn sure I didn’t see Chris Knight on MSNBC during Occupy Wall Street, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t identify with the so called “99%.” It’s just that Chris, being from Slaughters, Kentucky and all, has a bit of a different outlook. On his sixth album (not counting the two Trailer Tapes) entitled Little Victories, Knight is pissed with the establishment, but he’s not looking for a handout. Instead, he’s holed up with his gun at home with his family (“You Can’t Trust No One”) cherishing the small things such as Little Debbies and Mountain Dew (“Little Victories”). And even though he still wonders where his next dollar will come from, since Uncle Sam has both of his hands in Chris’ pocket, (“In The Mean Time”) these hard times ain’t got nothing on him (“Nothing on Me”).

This album has been on repeat in my car (and in my head) for the past two weeks and it will definitely make my top 5 of 2012. It’s not a perfect album however, as I would love to trade “Jack Loved Jesse” for another Libertarian-themed rocker, and I would have dumped the guest appearance from John Prine on “Little Victories” and let Knight handle that one solo, but hey, you can’t get everything right. Although, Chris does come awfully close on this one.

RIYL: 3 legged dogs, Ron Paul, Yellow Number 5

Chip Frazier:

A lot of singers want to be political these days, especially in an election year. Times are tough on Little Victories, but this is not about politics. Knight sings about the lives of the folks he knows and grew up with who depend on themselves and each other to survive. The characters who inhabit this album don’t trust “Uncle Sam” and aren’t naive enough to give any credibility to political sound bites. The theme of persevering in hard times is an almost singular theme on this album. The lyrics on the songs are so personal that I felt as if I was actually living within each song as I listened. The relevance of these songs is not confined by geography. You don’t have to be from Kentucky coal mining country to understand what it is like to struggle. Economic troubles are painful whether your collar is blue or white.

The Musical arrangements on this album are similar to his previous releases. However, he does turn the tempo up a notch on the more Rockin’ songs like, “Low, Down Ramblin’ Blues” or “Jack Loved Jesse”. The latter song is really the only outlaw story song on the album. So I must respectfully disagree with Todd, every Chris Knight album needs an outlaw ballad. The biggest takeaway after listening to this album is that, during hard times, Little Debbies do count as groceries. (Personally I like Devil Cremes or Swiss Cake Rolls, but Nick Saban eats Oatmeal Creme Pies for breakfast every morning.)

– By Mayer Danzig for Twangville, September 21, 2012