CMF (UK) Review
Chris Knight is the best damn songwriter in Country Music, and I'll stand on Steve Earle's coffee table in my punk rock creepers and say that. In fact, he's been the artist that has ultimately made good on Earle's original promise of a truly literate country music that still travels the rutted dirt road of life as it's lived by everyday folks.
Every song he writes is as real as both the day and night are long, sounding as if they were destined to be even before Knight drew them out of his creative soul. And then he sings them with an unaffected, straightforward backwoods drawl that sounds as natural as the wind through the trees or the lonesome howl of coyote at midnight.
Ever since his self-titled debut a decade ago, Knight has been an artist that from first blush engages not just the listener's ear but heart, mind and soul with songs that course with genuine human blood through their veins. He has a novelist's eye for the seemingly small moments that nonetheless loom large and the true storyteller's gift for finding the dramatic colours and hues in day-to-day life.
Few artists in the roots music realm these days have shown such consistency as Knight throughout everything he has released, so much so that his lat album of early demos recorded in a trailer at his rural home outside the tiny and evocatively named town of Slaughters, Kentucky is a not just worthy but in fact notable addition to his canon.
So to say that Heart Of Stone, his sixth album, is more of the same is anything but a slight, because it is that, yet that at its best. Even Knight, a notoriously modes fellow, believes it's his best work yet. And on his third recording with former Georgia Satellite Dan Baird in the producer's chair, the two have developed a rapport that makes this set sound like the house band for a comfortably woozy night at your favorite barroom to feel a few minutes of joy or drink away your sorrows, maybe both.
The 12 tracks here are something of a song cycle, bowing with the hypnotically haunting march of the Homesick Gypsy who "ain't home till I leave you behind" and wrapping up its musical journey with the swaying gait of a restless soul who finally just wants to Go On Home. Along the way, the disc travels through Danville, a place where everyone hopes to escape it as well as their demons and travails, and steadily but wearily trudges the Miles To Memphis. You meet Maria, the woman who compels a man to hitch a ride back to her, and gaze into a crystal ball that reveals nothing but the cloudy facts of life in the swirling storm of Hell Ain't Half Full.
Knight's world is one where the quest is Something To Keep Me Going and you're forever Almost There. And who but Knight can make a tale of wrecked and stripped down junkers like My Old Cars sound like a loving tribute?
Baird threads the instruments through Knight's songs like a tapestry, with country fiddle adding the tears or sorrow and cries of emotional pain, electric guitars bringing lightning flashes of fate and the churning internal drive of restlessness, and touches of B3 echo the distant songs of angels that keep the struggling folks in these songs on a path towards a redemption that just may never come.
And he has the good sense to just get out of the way and let Knight's voice and a lone guitar mesmerise on the stark John Prine-like lament of Crooked Road.
Musically situated at the very heart of the place in American roots music where folk, rock and rural styles all converge. Heart Of Stone is as perfect as country music can and should be here in 2008. .... Rob Patterson