ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
Little Victories, by Chris Knight
This has been the season for political commentary and focused exploration of the American spirit. Lots of people will attempt to describe it, but few will come as close as Chris Knight. His songs ring out with an unparalleled authenticity, with music as well worn as his lyrics.
The title track, with a relaxed yet confident feel, sets the tone. Guest vocalist John Prine sings, “I heard the country is going through hard times, but I ain’t feeling it now. We’re all trying to make it through one more day when all is said and done.” Knight and Prine ultimately conclude, “Little victories are all right with me, these days are all I need.”
The intensity rings louder on “In the Meantime.” “Sometimes I wonder where my next dollar gonna come from,” asks Knight against an acoustic guitar and mandolin. The acoustic instruments soon gives way to raw electric guitar as Knight declares, “I’m pretty sure that the government ain’t gonna save you, the good Lord helps the ones who help themselves.”
The electric guitars continue their rampage on “Low Down Rambling Blues.” Knight displays little sympathy for a guy who ignores life responsibility in his quest for a good time, “You break and cry, that’s what do, ’cause your sorry life is catchin’ up with you.”
“You Can’t Trust No One” is a paradox of optimism and pragmatism. Knight sings of letting his hogs run free only to find a couple missing. “It kinda hurt my feelings that somebody would steal from me,” he laments, “they’d just come and ask me well I’d give ‘em one for free.” He continues:
People won’t you come together we’ve all got to live as one
I ain’t right sure what that means but don’t you reckon it sounds like fun
Everybody pack your picnic lunch and everbody pack your gun
‘cause you can’t trust no one.
“Nothing On Me” captures the essence of Knight and his music. I particularly like the portrayal of his dog.
I got a three-legged dog I call Jake
Got the ‘won’t back down’ scars on his face
He tussled with a bear and he came in second place
He comes back home every now and then
With some brand new scars and I have to grin
And I know I’m proud to call ol’ Jake my friend.
Knight ultimately concludes – both for himself and Jake – that “times are tough, but they ain’t got nothing on me.” There is little doubt.
(See Eli, Todd and Chip’s take on the Knight release here)
Audio Stream: Chris Knight, “In the Meantime”
Let The Bloody Moon Rise, by Kasey Anderson and the Honkies
I’ve been on a bit of a rock and roll bender of late. My playlists have tended towards songs filled with wailing guitars, all the better if they’ve got a rough and tumble edge to them. And damn if Kasey Anderson didn’t come along with an album that hit the bulls-eye.
“Some Depression” kicks off the album with a bang, a bluesy slide guitar leading the band with a healthy swagger. In typical wry fashion, Anderson talks of life as a musician with direct and indirect references to musicians ranging from Gram Parsons to the Replacements. In fact the song might as well have been called “The Musician’s Lament” as Anderson sings, “there ain’t no pension in my profession and all my life’s been natural regression.”
“Don’t Look Back” offers up a testament to the power of the Honkies. Originally recorded by Anderson in 2007, the new version has a sonic quality fueled by brawny guitars and a simmering organ. This is what melancholy sounds like when it rocks.
And the rock keeps rolling. Guitarist Andrew McKeag steps to the mike for “Already Gone,” a guitar rave-up with some brilliant sunny harmonies. “Down Lucine” has a musical and lyrical sneer while the Honkies take on Delbert McClinton’s “Two More Bottles of Wine” is a rough and tumble roadhouse rocker.
Anderson does a bit of fun give and take with covers. He and the Honkies are joined by You Am I’s Tim Rogers on the Rogers-penned “Older Guys.” The group, minus Rogers, also serve up their version of “Like Teenage Gravity,” a pensive and sharp Anderson-penned rocker recently covered by Counting Crows.
As with previous releases, Anderson throws in a ballad that will simply blow you away. The deceivingly simple melody of “All the Good You Lose” is given profound depth by the nuanced interplay of multiple guitars and keyboards. Anderson’s raspy vocals drip with emotion as he sings, “As long as there’s a world that spins, all the good you lose comes back again.”
The lyric is fitting for an artist who has just announced a hiatus from the musical business. Here’s hoping that he comes back soon.
Audio Download: Kasey Anderson and the Honkies, “All the Good You Lose”
To Myself, Tift Merritt (from the Yep Roc Records release Traveling Alone)
It’s hard not to be enraptured by Tift Merritt’s voice. It has a captivating sweetness, even when she sings of pain and heartbreak. Her latest release has a resounding personal feel to it, a collection of thoughtful songs performed with a raw and honest sound. Overall the album a relatively mellow affair, however this track is propelled by a driving rhythm and slide guitar. (See Chip’s take on Traveling Alone release here.)
Audio Stream: Tift Merritt, “To Myself”
Splitter, Calexico (from the Anti- Records release Algiers)
Tuscon’s Calexico have quietly yet firmly established themselves as masterful musicians. They take impeccably crafted songs and surround them with brilliant arrangements, filled with rich harmonies and sublime horn refrains. This track walks the fine line between joyfulness and tension with glorious results.
Audio Download: Calexico, “Splitter”
Mercy, Ben Kyle (from the La Traviata Records release Ben Kyle)
The Romantica singer-songwriter strikes out on his own, with a little help from his former band mates. His music has a stark quality yet it possesses an undeniable warmth. And the lyrics? Exquisite: May every word be spoken, and every truth be told, may every promise be unbroken, every gift turned into gold.
Audio Download: Ben Kyle, “Mercy”
Wishing Well, Trapper Schoepp and the Shades (from the Side One Dummy Records release Run, Engine, Run
Schoepp and company’s web site proclaims, “Milwaukee-based rock and roll” and they ain’t kidding. Schoepp’s writes with a roots-oriented style into which the Shades inject a rock and roll sensibility. Think the finer moments of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Note to self – see these guys in concert the next chance I get, these songs must sound great live.
Audio Download: Trapper Scheopp and the Shades, “Wishing Well”
Decider, Brian Whelan (from the Three Moves Equals A Fire release Decider)
Brian Whelan’s day gig is performing with Dwight Yoakam’s band but, left to his own devices, he is all power pop. That’s just the kind of guy we like handing around Twangville. While winter may be approaching Boston, all I need to do is put on this track for a little sunshine in Twangville.
Audio Download: Brian Whelan, “Decider”
Waking Up the Dead, Matthew Perryman Jones (from the Cante Jondo Records release Land of the Living)
This track from Perryman Jones’ exudes inspiration. A driving beat and angelic background vocals set the stage for Perryman Jones’ plea:
Where did I go wrong?
I lost my head
I want to dance on fire
And be born again
I can hear the voice
That’s raising up the dead
This is the kind of song that you want blasting from your car stereo as you speed down the highway. You’ll be hard-pressed to not sing along… loudly.
Audio Download: Matthew Perryman Jones, “Waking Up the Dead”
Tell Me This is Love, Jess Klein (from the self-released Behind a Veil)
I’ve been catching up on some releases that I missed earlier in the year and this one has risen to the top of the pile. Klein writes and sings with a relaxed confidence as she channels the grief of losing her father to ALS and the end of a romantic relationship. Despite the serious inspiration, this track is a guaranteed smile-inducer with its infectious melody and musical swagger.
Audio Download: Jess Klein, “Tell Me This is Love”
The Rumors are True, David Wax Museum (from the Ramseur Records release Knock Knock Get Up)
David Wax and Suz Slezak were welcome newcomers on the scene last year. They side-step the sophomore slump with another solid release. Their latest tends a bit more towards the pop end of the spectrum yet still maintains the Mexican and Appalachian folk influence that defines their sound.
Audio Stream: David Wax Museum, “The Rumors are True”
Something New, the Pollies (from the This Is American Music release Where the Lies Begin)
Alabama is on a roll. It gives one pause to think about the breadth of good music emerging from the state these days. Among the latest to come along are the Pollies, hailing from Muscle Shoals. The band takes its rock songs and wraps them in a somewhat atmospheric sound filled with guitars heavy with echo and reverb.
Audio Download: The Pollies, “Something New”
See Part 1 of the Fall Playlist here.
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.