With Chris Knight's debut album, released on MCA Nashville's sister label Decca, critics of the new country sound of the late '90s began to hold out hope that Nashville could return to the genuineness that it had been so lacking for years. That hope was rooted partly in Knight's singing, full of country-rock phrasing clearly modeled after Knight's hero, Steve Earle, but even more so in Knight's songwriting. His flair for describing the lower-middle class in Middle America, their difficulties making a living, and run-ins with the law, evokes Earle and even early Bruce Springsteen. For example, "Love and a .45," co-written with Fred Eaglesmith, describes how two lonely people on opposite sides of the law, a cop and a prostitute, find each other. One of Knight's most literate songs, "The River's Own," details the singer's father's (and ultimately, his own) union with the river that runs by the family farm. And on the album's most poignant song, Knight tells the story of "William," a boy who "grew up hard and mean," beaten by his father, only to inflict some of the same pain on his family as an adult and die in a drugstore robbery. The only problem with this album is the instrumental arrangements. Some of Nashville's top studio musicians perform, and therein lies the rub. While technically proficient, the playing never matches up to the raw energy of Knight's songs. Thus, recording for a major label was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it gave Knight a chance to be a major force in starting a new trend in country music, but on the other, the music might have been more effective had it been recorded live for a small independent record label.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Brian Wahlert