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Chris Knight

Trailer II

(Drifters Church; US: 15 Sep 2009; UK: 14 Sep 2009)

In interviews and press releases, Chris Knight comes across as fairly ambivalent about 2007’s The Trailer Tapes and surprised at its reception. Recorded in the lead-up to 1998’s Chris Knight, The Trailer Tapes finds Knight holed up in his hot single-wide trailer, surrounded by farm sounds, recording the sound of just himself and his acoustic guitar. Fans immediately considered it an essential part of Knight’s already impressive catalogue, not only because it offered up a batch of previously unheard songs, but also because it presented Knight at his most basic. Granted, you’d never mistake a Chris Knight record for a glossy product of the Nashville machine, but there’s something about the bare-bones vibe of The Trailer Tapes that’s just right for Knight’s songs of hard blue-collar living, violence, and struggling to get by.


If Trailer II doesn’t pack quite the same impact as


, the feeling that your foot has tripped over some half-buried treasure in a field, it’s only because most of its songs have appeared on previous Knight records. Recorded as part of the same sessions that produced The Trailer Tapes, though, these “new” demos contain every bit as much emotional impact. Knight’s songwriting prowess, no secret to begin with, really dominates these recordings. “Old Man” documents a wayward son’s tense homecoming as he tells his father, “I ain’t your favorite son / I never even tied for last / Do you still cuss the dirt and pray for rain / Stubborn as the sun and twice as vain”. “It Ain’t Easy Being Me” boasts the fantastic opening lines, “There oughtta be a town named for how I feel / Yeah, I could be the mayor down there / and say ‘Welcome to Sorryville’”. “Highway Junkie” sounds for all the world like a vintage trucker anthem with its chorus, “them big wheels of rubber gonna rub her offa my mind / I’m a highway junkie, I need that old white line”. With these and other Knight standards such as “Love and a .45”, “The River’s Own”, and “Summer of ‘75”, it’s only natural to view Trailer II as something of an acoustic best-of disc. The songs are that strong, and in some cases, such as the excellent “Love and a .45”, you could argue that these threadbare renditions top the later studio versions.


On top of the demos for familiar Knight songs, Trailer II also offers up three previously unreleased songs: “I’ll Be There”, “Speeding Train” and “Till My Leavin’s Through”. All are worthy additions to Knight’s catalogue. “I’ll Be There” offers a heartfelt promise of support, while the driving rhythm of “Speeding Train” is the perfect accompaniment to the narrator’s cry of “I gotta stop this speeding train / Gotta stop this bleeding pain / Lord help me if you can / She’s got leaving in her head and my heart in her hands”. Album-closer “Till My Leavin’s Through” has gentle fingerpicking which showcases Knight’s John Prine influence, and a less hectic but no less emotional train station departure, as Knight sings, “I wish that was thunder, and not a train”.


It short, there’s really nothing to complain about on Trailer II. The effect of these acoustic arrangements isn’t as startling as, say, Prine’s first live album (which resurrected so many fine songs from a graveyard of cloying country arrangements), but they can be pretty dramatic. Knight may look back on these recordings and see mistakes and the genesis of things he would get better at in later years, but to the ears of many fans, these recordings are the best starting point for anyone curious about Chris Knight.

Rating:

Andrew Gilstrap is a freelance writer living in South Carolina, where he's able to endure the few weeks each year that it's actually freezing (swearing a vow that if he ever moves, it'll be even farther south). Aging into a fine curmudgeon whose idea of heaven is 40 tree-covered acres away from the world, he increasingly wishes he were part of a pair of twins, just so he could try being the kinda evil one on for size. Musically, he's always scouring records for that one moment that makes him feel like he's never heard music before, but he long ago realized he needs to keep his copies of John Prine, Crowded House, the Replacements, Kate Bush, and Tom Waits within easy reach.


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Unflinchingly honest country music that makes you want to lay down and die. In a good way.
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