Chris Knight,
The Jealous Kind
(Dualtone, 2003)

In this, his third CD, Christ Knight returns to the country/folk/rock fusion of his earlier efforts, drawing deep from his rural roots -- he was born in the Kentucky countryside and still lives there -- to recount mostly downbeat stories of losers, drunks, killers, frightened people facing desperate choices and the devil himself. Ol' Scratch shows up in the Knight/Metaca Berg piece "Devil Behind the Wheel," a twisted, sort-of-gospel fable whose subject matter faintly echoes that of a much older song, "That Hellbound Train."

The Jealous Kind offers none of the sugary affirmations of love you're going to hear on mainstream country radio. From Knight's perspective, love is madness and death. Even coming out of your personal CD player, this album is not exactly casual listening. Knight is one of those artists for whom "entertainer" is not the first synonym that comes to mind -- though a musician friend who's seen them tells me he and his band put on a good show.

In the folkish acoustic ballad "Long Black Highway," written by Knight and Austin Cunningham, two young roofers spend their summer nights partying until one night, broke, drunk and stoned, they rob a gas station. One of them kills the kid who's working there. A few minutes later he murders his accomplice, in whose voice the tale is told. "I guess that he quit shooting/When he thought that I was dead." In the last verse the two dead victims wander together as ghosts along the highway. The song has an almost medieval resonance, as if a Child ballad for the 21st century.

In "Carla Came Home" (Knight/David Leone) a woman slays her abusive husband on a dark Christmas night. Inspired by The Grapes of Wrath (and, I presume, Woody Guthrie's "Tom Joad"), Knight's "Broken Plow" reimagines Okies fleeing the 1930s Dust Bowl on their way to an uncertain future in California. In "Hello Old Man," an unfavored wayward son returns home to speak bitterly to an unwelcoming father: "I'm just trying to reap what you have sown." On the other hand, Knight (with Chuck Prophet) makes cheery, rueful humor out of human persistence in hopeless causes in the good-time rocker "Banging Away."

Knight is a poet of life's other side. His cracked, laconic, faintly nasal singing is perfectly suited to the telling of tales like these, and the expert Nashville band behind him provides the appropriate settings. If they're often grim, his songs are never less than believable and affecting, and they are seldom about himself. In that sense, they're a welcome change from the narcissistic piffle to which acoustic guitar-slinging singer-songwriters so often subject us.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 21 August 2004

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