The Dark Side
The truth hurts. And if you're a master storyteller who's hopelessly devoted to telling the truth, you're bound to strike a few chords and push a few buttons. Penning dark tunes and tales of survival, critically-acclaimed songwriter Chris Knight maintains a stark, stunning honesty, commanding attention at every turn. With a new collection of savagely emotional songs up his sleeve, this outsider is ready to hit the road again, staking his claim among the fresh crop of brilliant original roots-country artists currently making waves in Nashville.
Hailing from the tiny mining town of Slaughters in western Kentucky, Knight began writing songs a few years back. He graduated from WKU and while employed as a strip mine inspector for the state, he began working on a catalog of his own.
With stories in his head, Knight began to plow the same ground as Steve Earle and Townes Van Zandt before him, scribing original story songs with uniquely visceral focus. Fully aware of the merits of cracked hands, aching backs and dirty fingernails, he began crafting tales of the people he knew and saw. It wasn't long before he had a solid collection of tunes.
"I went at it like a novelist who sits at home, drinks whiskey and pounds the typewriter," the soft spoken Knight explains. "That's what great novelists do and it's why their words are so powerful."
After about six years of writing, Knight began playing around Nashville and before he knew it, he found himself on Decca Records recording his first album.
Released in 1998, Knight's eponymously titled first release was hailed as the most striking, confident debut to come out of Nashville in years. The music walked a line where heartland rock meets country with an electrified twang and spoke volumes as the songs touched on the lives of all types of people, from the battered child to the raging farmer, from the world weary cop to the scared prostitute.
"When it comes time to write," Knight explains, "it's people's histories that inspire me, especially the darker side. The dark side of life is what adds character to things."
With an honest voice and a strained sensibility, Knight's songs bore witness to the things he observed about life. He immediately begged comparisons to the likes of John Prine, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, with an elusive echo of Bob Dylan. Plain language and a melodic undertow helped him tackle his subject matter as he toyed with the jagged edges that make real life more interesting than fiction.
Now, after a few years off the road, Knight is back with another remarkable release on Dualtone Records. Produced by studio hound Dan Baird (of the late, great Georgia Satellites), A Pretty Good Guy is filled with honky-tonkin' tearjerkers and bad-ass ballads. It rattles and hums along with even more murky tales that border on great pulp fiction.
From the looming loss of a loved one in the chilling "North Dakota" to the shocking story of violence, loss and vengeance that fuels "Down the River," every track brings something different to the table.
"About all the songs are influenced by the types of people that live around Slaughters," Knight confesses. "Most of it is based on real experiences and real places I know. I'll find some little particular stuff, then blow it all out of proportion."
A criminal is born in "Becky's Bible," boys flirt with good-time teenage danger in "Oil Patch Town," desperate Appalachian romance takes hold in "Hard Candy," and redemption is found on "The Lord's Highway."
"To me, the whole album tells a story," acknowledges Knight. "And every song was like becoming a different character for a while. It may get dark, but it's dark in a real kind of way. At one time or another, I've felt every emotion in these songs. "
Painting with vivid imagery and weaving tales like a great American novelist, Knight is sticking to a vision, however dark and mysterious it may be.
"I just want people to be entertained," Knight admits. "You can be entertained in a lot of different ways, but I want this record to feel like you're reading a really good book. And at the end of the album, the guy is still standing. There's no messages in there other than that a lot of people have gone through a lot of bad things. And most of 'em do come out the other side."
"I thought, 'Man, some people might not be able to handle this,'" Knight confesses. "But I don't need to apologize for anything. It hits hard sometimes, and I suppose that some people don't want to get hit at all. But it's tough for me to sing a song with a line in it that I'm not feeling, and I'm feeling everything on this record. That keeps it honest. And I couldn't imagine it any other way."
Chris Knight plays Friday, September 7, at Lynagh's at 10pm. Pat Haney opens the show. The cover is $6. For more info, visit www.chrisknight.com.
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