Drawing inspiration from the blue-collar struggles of his hometown, Slaughters, Ky., Chris Knight’s eighth studio album, Little Victories, is a gritty and unflinching look at the troubles facing small town America. There’s a desperate tension running through the 11-song set, due in stores September 11, as the portrait here is often bleak. Yet, through Chris’ mesmerizing growl and vivid storytelling comes a message of self-reliance and strength.
Working with Producer Ray Kennedy (Steve Earle, Todd Snider, Reckless Kelly), Little Victories was recorded mostly live – with amps seemingly turned to 11. The production is raw. Distortion buzzes and drums pound. Just like the hard economic truths that many Americans are facing, there’s no polish. With the pure sounds of acoustic notes and mandolin paired with guttural electric guitar, the album-opener “In The Meantime” ignites the lyrical firestorm. I’m pretty sure that the government ain’t gonna save you, he sings while advocating taking up arms for survival. Chris’ rough voice sounds like a Southern, Rust Belt John Mellencamp, while Americana hero Buddy Miller assists with harmonies here and on the following song, “Missing You.” All I know is tough times, Chris sings on hard-charging “Missing You” as desperation looms heavy.
The working man’s struggle and looking out for number one seep from most every song. The melodic “Nothing On Me” begins with Chris digging out a bullet from his own leg after being shot trying to stop a bar fight. I’m a bring-it-on, git-r-done, don’t run, S.O.B., he sings with tough-as-nails sincerity through the rolling chorus. The ¾ time “Out Of This Hole” uses only voice and acoustic guitar when examining the strength that comes from within. Earnest lines like, My mind is sharp and my back is strong, are insightful and humble. On the harmonica-laden title-track, “Little Victories,” that work ethic is put to use with some help from the legendary John Prine, who splits a verse with Chris. I know I ain’t settin’ the world on fire, but I think I got it pretty good, he sings after devising and executing plans to make a couple extra bucks.
Still, there’s no sugarcoating any of the realities on Little Victories. “You Can’t Trust No One” offers a pretty pessimistic view of mankind. Everybody pack your picnic lunch and everybody pack your guns, Chris sings, wishing for a day when we can all get along. Driven by a circular chord progression and some grinding power chords, “Low Down Ramblin’ Blues” employs a seedy character to tell a story of self-inflicted wounds. You party ‘til you wake up, break down and cry, comes the biting line. One of the collection’s most impactful pieces, the downtempo “Hard Edges,” moves slowly to fiddle and banjo as a sad story of emotional neglect takes its toll.
Chris’ remarkable storytelling remains the album’s focus. On the outlaw getaway “Jack Loved Jesse” and the alienated “The Lonesome Way,” sharp writing illustrates the flaws in human nature. “You Lie When You Call My Name,” which was co-written with Lee Ann Womack, details tormented love with a visceral delivery. This type of vivid insight and craft has long been part of his repertoire, and on Little Victories, Chris’ captivating songwriting acknowledges the harsh realities while also offering hope for survival.
Key Tracks – “Nothing On Me,” “Hard Edges,” “You Can’t Trust No One,” “Low Down Ramblin’ Blues”