A couple years before releasing his 1998 Decca debut, Chris Knight demoed some of his songs with that disc's eventual co-producer, Frank Liddell. These were the days before computer software made it easy for home recording, so Liddell wound up recording Knight in an old trailer on Knight's Kentucky farm. Ten years down the road, these tapes got cleaned up by ace engineer/producer Ray Kennedy, and the results are quite wonderful. Only three of these 11 tunes ("Something Changed," "House and 90 Acres," and "If I Were You") later appeared on official Knight releases, but there isn't a drop-off in quality with the previously unreleased songs. The Trailer Tapes reveals Knight already to be a mature, gifted songwriter. The territory that he has addressed throughout his career -- hard-living working men, heartbreak, and stifling small-town existence -- is all here in impressive form. The disc is packed with powerful portraits of rural working life. On tracks like "Backwater Blues" and "Here Comes the Rain," he eloquently uses nature metaphors (the river in the former and farming and rain in the latter) to discuss heartache. With "Hard Edges" and "Move On," he offers vividly detailed studies of small-town life. The John Prine-ish "Hard Edges" poignantly profiles a woman who went from a grade-school ballerina to a blue-collar bar stripper, while "Move On" tackles the city-versus-country class struggle in the menacing tale of a bar fight. This tune, one of several mentioning pistols, contains a fine example of Knight's "redneck" but sharp-edged writing in the couplet "You say you're from college/But you don't seem too bright/You just brung a switchblade/To a pistol fight." Knight also tackles country versus city life in the memorable closing number, "My Only Prayer," where the Kentucky-based Knight finds nothing to love in the big city. This moving lament also spotlights the disc's spare, almost rudimentary sound. Some reviews of his debut album noted that the standard country-rock arrangements distracted from Knight's songs. Here, however, it is just Knight singing to his acoustic guitar, allowing the listener's focus to fall on his ample songwriting talents. While his character-rich tunes and husky country twang reveal the influence of Prine and, more prominently, Steve Earle, Knight demonstrates that he is a natural storyteller and chronicler of the rural life. Although these tracks started out as demos, they are worthy additions to Knight's body of work.
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AllMusic Review by Michael Berick