Times are Tough But They Ain’t Got Nothin’ on Chris Knight

I have noted elsewhere that it is often difficult for artists to reflect on their own time and create great art about current events. Some musicians, including Bruce Springsteen and his recent album Wrecking Ball, have attempted to comment on the tough times facing many people around the world. On the new CD Little Victories (2012) singer-songwriter Chris Knight, though, may have created the angriest record about The Great Recession. It also may be the best.

The 52-year-old Kentuckian has been making great music for a long time following his initial post-college career as a mine reclamation inspector and as a miner’s consultant. I have loved his music since his self-titled debut in 1998, but surprisingly, major fame has alluded him. Perhaps he is too authentic so Nashville country radio does not play his music, and perhaps because he is too twangy so other listeners write him off. But you should not let your prejudices detour you from discovering his music. Not surprisingly, he is often compared to Steve Earle, another artist who bucked convention and makes intelligent and enthralling music.

John Prine, who joins Knight on the title track of the latest album, is another inspiration. Although I initially was surprised to learn that Knight started out by teaching himself John Prine songs, the connection makes sense when you hear the honest stories of down and out people in the music of both men.

Knight’s music has always featured honest stories about real life, and his latest album, Little Victories reflects much of the anger of the times, whether he is singing about tough times or broken hearts, as he does in this performance of “Missing You” with his band the Drunken Boaters at Fountain Square in Downtown Cincinnati on July 19, 2011.

Little Victories starts off with a hard sound on the first several songs, setting the stage for the anger of the times. Check out the opening song “In the Meantime.”

One of my favorite songs on the album, which is not available on YouTube, is “You Can’t Trust No One.” It is one of those songs that made me stop when it came on as I tried to figure out what it was about and what he was saying. My best guess is that it is some kind of sci-fi post-apocalyptic song, or a warning of where we may be going, or a prediction. Whereas Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own” may give us some comfort in dark times, Knight’s characters recognize that sometimes platitudes fail, as he sings in the chorus to “You Can’t Trust No One.”

“People, won’t you come together, we’ve all got to live as one;
I ain’t right sure what that means but I reckon it sounds like fun;
Everybody pack your picnic lunch, and everybody pack your gun,
‘Cause you can’t trust no one.”

Later in the album, the music is less angry but the tough times are still there. Here, Knight performs “Nuthin’ On Me” at Keithville, LA’s Rustic Cowboy on Feburary 24, 2012.

In “Out of this Hole” Knight contemplates the hole that many people around the world have fallen into. Here, he performs the song at The Down Home in Johnson City, TN.

The songs above give a little sense of the new album, but I am not sure you can get a sense of the darkness of the album from some performances before loud patrons in drinking establishments. In an interview some years ago, Knight explained, that he relates “to people in desperate situations doing what they got to do to get…doing what they do and then living with it. The living with it part is kind of what intrigues me.” If you also are intrigued by how people survive tough times, sit back with some bourbon and listen to Little Victories.

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