A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Chris Knight “Little Victories” (Drifter’s Church)
“Hard edges hide the tender heart/silent as a midnight prayer/hard edges hide the sweetest part/’til you never know it’s there” Chris Knight croons on “Hard Edges,” a mournful, banjo-inflected ode to shattered dreams featured on his new album, “Little Victories.”
The chorus could just as easily apply to the acclaimed alt-country singer-songwriter’s stark, gritty storytelling style. His first album of new material in four years, “Little Victories” has plenty of hard edges, but Knight isn’t engaging in the kind of swaggering macho posturing that dominates the country charts these days. Rather, his eighth album relates vivid, almost cinematic tales of tough folks dealing with tough times.
While rural anthems are trendy on mainstream country radio these days, Knight’s “Little Victories” accomplishes an authenticity that no slickly produced tribute to cane pole fishing and sweet tea sipping could ever achieve. His unflinching small-town stories are about coping with the socio-economic woes of his hometown of Slaughters, Ky., population 200, where circumstances were hard enough before the recession and got even harder when an ice storm devastated the coal mining hamlet two years ago.
When Knight, 52, growlingly recommends growing a garden patch, getting a shotgun and preparing to “shoot somethin’ and drag it home” because “I’m pretty sure that the government ain’t gonna save you” on the album opener “In the Mean Time,” you never doubt it he is singing with the voice of experience. His blue collar doesn’t seem put on as much as bred into him on the genuine title track, a harmonica-tinged story-song about being content with bologna, Little Debbies and Mountain Dew and a worn-out 4-by-4 pickup still able to haul a load of lumber. “Little Victories” even features his musical hero John Prine on supporting vocals.
Whether he is excoriating an unfaithful lover on “You Lie When You Call My Name,” which he co-wrote with Grammy winner Lee Ann Womack, or chronicling the self-inflicted hard luck of a wandering road warrior with “Low Down Ramblin’ Blues,” which punctuates every episode with a blistering electric guitar, Knight never fails to attain unpolished honesty. And that’s definitely a victory.
Knight will play a full-band show Nov. 1 at Tulsa’s Mercury Lounge. For more information, go to www.mercurylounge918.com. or www.chrisknight.net.