Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“If I don’t have something worth saying I’m not opening my mouth,” says Chris Knight in the promotional notes to this, his first album in seven years and ninth overall. It’s the longest he has gone between releases since his 1998 debut — hence the explanation — but you won’t be able to tell.
Knight continues down the path he has forged for the past two decades; singing gritty, meticulous stories about the tenacious lives of hardscrabble working folks like those in his home state of Kentucky. Assisting is guitarist/“special helper” Dan Baird along with longtime shotgun-riding producer Ray Kennedy. Knight sings with his usual gravitas. His flinty, gravelly voice still sounds like the result of Steve Earle swallowing John Mellencamp and Ryan Bingham.
Knight’s characters are often on the lam; with a woman he describes as having “coal black eyes and her heart broke smile” in “Crooked Mile” and away from a broken relationship and the bank he owes money to on “Won’t Look Back.” The theme extends to a “hollowed-eyed and hungry” drifter who seems to be on a collision course with “Trouble Up Ahead.” Musically, these alternately acoustic and electric tracks borrow from the tough, greasy Americana of the Drive-By Truckers and Knight’s major influence John Prine, who also guests on a cover of his “Mexican Home.”
Knight’s ornery, whisky-soaked vocals reflect his characters’ plights, most searching for the album’s titular positivity. The title track is a rare love song where he sings, “You’re my angel when I’m seeing ghosts” against tightly wound reverbed guitars and a thumping beat. Lee Ann Womack adds a female touch with backup on “Send It On Down,” the tragic tale of an alcoholic looking for redemption.
Each gutsy tune features finely crafted lyrics, taut melodies, Knight’s gutsy attack and an edgy vibe that lingers after the final notes fade. It’s arguably his finest work and one well worth waiting for.