Archived Arts & Entertainment

Knight rolls with the punches

By Chris Cooper

It’s pretty rough going for the characters in Chris Knight’s songwriting.

There’s booze, violence and regret lurking around every corner. There are sad folks using other sad people to make themselves feel better, families losing their farms, and the loneliness and stillness that come with loss. But they still manage to party at the local juke joint, look back on better days, and keep an eye out for a glimmer of hope here and there.

That actually sounds a little like everybody, doesn’t it?

With Enough Rope, Kentucky tunesmith Chris Knight channels the heartland sentiment found in Scarecrow era John Mellencamp and blends it with Steve Earle’s edginess and authenticity.

There’s no shortage of grit in Knight’s vocals, which is all the better for delivering tunes like “Rural Route” and “Jack Blue.” The latter is a sort of continuation of the character studies that Knight has become known for: people that, as a result of their upbringing, station in life and choices, find themselves lashing out with all they’ve ever had — their fists and anger.

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The silver lining is that, in the case of “Jack Blue,” Jack learns to stay away from the places and things that earned him his reputation, now filling his days with yard work and iced tea instead.

The overall darkness of the storytelling is tempered with a fair amount of heart, demonstrated on “Too Close To Home.” Here, the weary traveler finds a reminder of the life and home he’s missing in nearly everything he sees. This song is also one of the most accessible on the album from a “modern” country standpoint, complete with a strong hook and Dan Dugmore’s echoing, melodic pedal steel.

“To Get Back Home” follows, a rocking road journal that outwardly seems to come from the same place emotionally as “Too Close To Home,” just wrapped up in a much crunchier package. Knight’s band sounds absolutely at home here, burning away like the best bar-band you’ll ever hear. The call and response fills between the guitar and lap steel are a treat — check out those whistle high harmonics from the steel.

Knight uses a variety of arrangement techniques to flesh these songs out, never giving them more than is needed. Some tunes use only acoustic guitar to accompany his voice, and not surprisingly, these turn out to be some of the most effective, intimate songs on the album.

“William’s Son” is one of these, where Knight spits out the words with all the indignation and frustrated energy of the character he’s channeled for the song. The title track as well thrives on the sparse treatment it receives here, a somber but altogether realistic depiction of the resignation needed to simply accept what life has handed you.

There’s a lot that’s so very good on Enough Rope that it seems almost wrong to dole out any criticism, but one thing that does stand out upon the first listen is that Knight’s vocals so strongly resemble Mellencamp and Earle, it’s a little surreal. Admittedly, if you’re going to be a singer/songwriter in this genre, there are certainly worse people you could wind up being compared to, so maybe it’s nitpicking.

The redemption is that Knight is completely his own man as a songwriter, unafraid to tread deep into those darker places of the human condition. His songs never give in to the sappiness that’s often a trap to other writers that attempt this kind of “southern portraiture,” and by the album’s end the similarities and comparisons are rendered unnecessary and pointless.

Enough Rope marks Knight as a breed apart from the standard country/Americana songwriter. You’ve got several chances to catch Knight live this week — he’s at Charlotte’s venerable Evening Muse Aug. 10, and he’ll be rocking the stage at Asheville’s Grey Eagle Music Hall on Aug. 11 with John Brannen.

(Chris Cooper can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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