Renowned Singer-Songwriter Chris Knight Returns With Raw & Rocking ‘Almost Daylight’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

The acclaimed storyteller, one of our best songwriters in the past three decades, Chris Knight, returns with his first album in over seven years with Almost Daylight. This is Knight’s ninth album. He’s an artist that has long been adored by singer-songwriter aficionados but remained relatively under the radar in the early part of his career. In the years since, he’s become a profound influence on artists like John Moreland and Tyler Childers.  Given that both Lee Ann Womack and John Prine are guests on this album, it’s clear to see how Knight’s stature has deservedly grown.

Knight rather casually says “I’ve written songs about a lot of different things going all the way back to my first record, and some folks think ‘somebody kills somebody’ is all I write about. Maybe that’s why I was bound and determined to get these particular songs on this album. If people like them, then we’ll be fine. But I wasn’t gonna do it any other way.”  While it is identifiably a Knight album with his distinct Kentucky drawl, his vivid character portraits about desperate folks, and a clear knack for storytelling through song, it has some lyrical elements heretofore not done like testaments to compassion, redemption, and even love. His albums are always tough but this one is both tough and tender. If there’s a theme, Knight indicates that it’s about seeking shelter. 

Knight returns with long-time Grammy-winning engineer Ray Kennedy, best known for his work with Steve Earle but also aboard for Knight’s most recent albums – Enough Rope (2006), Trailer II (2009), and Little Victories (2012). This time Kennedy and Knight go for a raw, scorching electric sound, the kind brought by two-time Knight producer and Georgia Satellite guitarist  Dan Baird. There are background vocals from Chris Clark, Siobhan Kennedy and Lee Ann Womack as well as deeper instrumentation than ever before. Knight’s previous albums have been predominantly acoustic. He was determined not to have acoustic songs on this album but wanted to keep it raw, edgy, and “big” at the same time. The two kept the Appalachian factor with banjo, fiddle, harmonica, and mandolin where they fit. Baird’s long-term relationship with Knight certainly qualified him as the right guitarist and contributions from piano B3, accordion and Wurlitzer electric piano were woven in depending on the need of the song.

The album opens with “I’m William Callahan” with doses of pride, memories and Baird’s rumbling guitar. “Crooked Mile” is a signature kind of Knight song, a penetrating tale on outsiders bound by love. Tales of small-town despair (Knight’s town has a population of 236) emerge in “I Won’t Look Back” and rural menace, another of Knight’s favorite topics, appears in “Trouble Up Ahead.” He chronicles break up in “Everybody’s Lonely Now.” On the opposite scale is a tune about redemption in “Send It On Down,” perseverance in “Go On” and even love in the title track.

This is also the first time Knight has put cover songs on an album. He poignantly delivers Johnny Cash’s “Flesh and Blood,” a tune Knight did on the 2002 tribute album Dressed in Black. The album closes with a joyous, rousing duet with John Prine on the latter’s 1973 classic “Mexican Home” about which Knight says, “I love that song, but it took me 15 years to find a way to do it. I kept playing around, changing the vocal key and finally landed on the spot. I’ve been singing it at my kitchen table for the last few years, and when we were down to the last song, I knew this should be it.” 

Just so folks know that Knight isn’t totally a recluse holed up in a country cabin, he makes a searing comment on today’s cultural divide in “The Damn Truth” – “money ain’t always the bottom line.” Although he brings a clear-eyed view to that one, his favorite is the one long-time fans would likely least expect, the title track which is a love song.  He jokingly adds, “I’m killin’ people with love now.”

In some of his comments, it appears that Knight’s a little worried about the reception to this album. He claims that some songs take a year of writing before he thinks they are ready to be recorded. Some of the new subject matter and a louder, rawer sound are also new elements. No worries, it’s great to have Chris Knight back. He is a singular voice.

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