Enough Rope Label: Drifter’s Church
Outlaw roots rocker Chris Knight, reared in Kentucky, hard-scarred in Nashville, and recently dubbed an honorary Texan, picks himself up from the canvas one more time on Enough Rope, his fourth somewhat-major label release in eight years. Largely ignored by the establishment, whether country or AOR radio, Knight has cut his teeth in the shadows of lazy comparisons to Steve Earle (whose Twang Trust brother Ray Kennedy lends a production hand here). Though it is impossible to disregard Earle’s influence on a painstaking narrative like “Cry Lonely,” all twanged up and singed with viola and fiddle, Knight refuses to stop there.
“I built a fire up on a hill, sat in the woods and drank my fill / talked to God all night, took another shot and set me right,” the gruff, bearded one mutters on “Rural Route,” maybe the best Robert Earl Keen song that Keen hasn’t written. A decade of tug o’ war with multiple record labels has served Knight, or at least his songs, quite well. From the brutal protagonist he portrays in the opening “Jack Blue” to the Mellencamp-like “Dirt,” which takes an anti-gubmint stand for his grandpa’s land, these songs reek of “been there, done that.”
Truth be told, the Mellencamp comparison is more often fitting within Enough Rope, especially on rockers “Up From The Hill” and “River Road,” than the all-too-common six degrees to Steve Earle. Having penned all 13 cuts this time out, it would seem Knight is ready to graduate on up the ranks. But, alas, he’s been here before. As tenured a songwriter as he is – “Bridle on a Bull” would make John Prine proud – Knight continues to assume the role of working class stiff living paycheck to paycheck.
The New York Times once referred to Knight as “the last of a dying breed, a hard-nosed iconoclast with an acoustic guitar and a college degree.” What a college education couldn’t teach him was how to endure a current industry landscape that’s neither logical nor fair. When Slaid Cleaves, the Bottle Rockets, and the Chris Knights of the world are being passed over in favor of Fall Out Boy and Kelly Clarkson, believe me, there is no amount of higher education that can supply explanation. In the meantime, take Enough Rope for what it is- a simple good Americana listen. And don’t get so worked up about the politics of the situation that you want to hang yourself with it.