September 18, 2019
Chris Knight – Almost Daylight
After a seven-year hiatus, Knight returns with a tour de force. His songs are lyrically rooted in the blue-collar world of Kentucky and his sound is uncompromising electric guitar drenched country-blues-rock. Ray Kennedy (5 Time Grammy Award Winner) produces the album and the quality never falters as Knight’s muscular and gritty vocals come to the fore over this full sound often leavened by banjo, fiddle and mandolin. A show stopping contribution comes from Dan Baird (Georgia Satellites) on guitars: fluid solos, incendiary flourishes and a breadth of sounds that will have you reaching for his own work.
Knight wrote all but two of the 11 tracks. He writes from the place of a humble soul often struggling against ‘the Man’ in a world of little money and lots of personal baggage from a life of missteps and hard living. He may have been the originator of this type of storytelling but since he’s been away these first-person stories bring to mind James McMurtry for their wistful insights (and sound) and Tyler Childers for the compact stories of minor criminal hijinks in rural Kentucky.
“I Won’t Look Back” is a classic rambling man’s song of movin’ on; in Knight’s case often leaving the scene of his latest failure or crime. An insistent rhythm with wailing electric guitar and harmonica hits a heavy groove. Acoustic guitar introduces “Go On” before organ carries the melody – “let the fire and the rain find my way out” tells you of his being prepared with dogged determination to push on through to a better place. “That’s The Damn Truth” is the assessment of an older man prepared to tell you the truth about the world around us – “money ain’t always the bottom line”, “we live in a world of lies” and “you can’t get back the time you kill”. He has a resignation that suggests we inhabit a vicious circle.
Lee Ann Womack lends her wondrous voice to “Send It Down”. A quick Google reveals that Knight has worked with her husband, Frank Liddell, and maybe explains the connection. Knight asks Jesus for the delivery from up above “whilst he’s still able to be found”. This type of searching for redemption underpins much of the lyrical content. “Almost Daylight” is a joy: yet again a lonely and conflicted man seeks the breaking of the day from his motel room – “waiting for the sun to stare down the moon”. He’s travelling earning a living before he returns home. At the end of his fraying tether is the love of his life.
A surprising change, yet completely delightful, of subject and sound sees a light country folk song – “Flesh & Blood”. It’s a love paean comparing her importance to the beauty of the nature around him. A fiddle provides the backing. We finish with “Mexican Home”. John Prine composed this and he also lends his tonsils to this rendition. Frankly, I’m not a fan of the ageing celebrity turning up for a duet but this is worthy and probably reinforces the respect Knight has accumulated in this industry from his first release in 1998.
Knight has obviously taken some time to curate this selection of songs. I’d guess Knight turned up at the studio, strummed them, and Kennedy built the instrumentation and arrangements around them. This means that Knight’s wordy delivery is intact but the pace is similar throughout: I did occasionally yearn for a change of gear. However, this album has a gorgeous Southern Rock feel (oh, those guitars) and Knight’s voice fits like a glove. He nicely joins the country music segment populated by Chris Stapleton, Jamey Johnson and some young pretenders like Dillon Carmichael. I think you may be well advised to check this out.