Release Date: 09.23.03
Record label: Dualtone
Genre(s): Trance, Big Beat, Ambient, House, Trip-Hop, etc.
Meet the New Boss, More Country Than the Old Boss
by: matt cibula
Right up front, let's say it: Chris Knight's songs bear more than a little resemblance to Bruce Springsteen's from about Darkness on the Edge of Town to about Lucky Town or so. (Better subtract all those shiny big-ass-drum-sound anthem songs from Born in the U.S.A., though.) And there's nothing wrong with that—Springsteen took some heat for it back in the day, but it was Brooooce, and everyone fell in love with that stuff a few years later anyway.
So when Knight (an authentic Southerner!) comes along with his raspy baritone and his despondent working-class narrators, I'm already half-sold. But The Jealous Kind takes me the rest of the way; it's a superb collection of songs by one of our most interesting young songwriters. But it's more country-sounding than Bruce has ever been able (or willing) to pull off, so if you're one of those sad little "country music hasn't been good since Merle Haggard died" people, then you can just get bent, because this is real C&W music that packs an emotional wallop. (Plus, Hag's still alive, you morons.)
The opening title track is already classic: the narrator is speeding to keep his girlfriend Maria from running off with another guy, even though that's not the kind of thing he usually does: "I've never drove two days through the pouring rain / Only stopping for coffee and gas / Never outdrove the law on the interstate / Didn't know this thing could go that fast." It's a Nebraska-era Bruce tune, except it's not—Knight wrote it with Gary Nicholson—and it's epic like fate, because as the song ends our unnamed hero has finally gotten caught by the cops, and all he can do is dream of his one phone call to Maria. (I always imagine that this is the same Maria from Springsteen's "Highway Patrolman," but I'm probably wrong.)
Knight does a lot of things that are very Boss-like here, including the persevere-at-any-cost tune "Bangin' Away" and the spooky closer "Long Black Highway," which is written and sung from the perspective of a ghost haunting that lonesome stretch of road. And "Broken Plow" and "A Train Not Running" are straight out of the Boss' "Songs About Little Guys Getting Screwed By the Big Bad System" handbook.
But Knight is no copyist; just because he shares some thematic concerns and a gift for straight-ahead poetry with Springsteen doesn't mean he's doing it in any kind of cynical way. He just believes that the little guy takes it in the shorts (true) and that love causes more problems than it solves (very true) and that a guy doesn't have to have an outstanding voice or a degree in creative writing to create some damn fine songs (truest thing ever said, teach your children this, stitch it on samplers).
And there is enough here that does not sound like Springsteen to clear up any confusion. "Staying Up All Night Long" has some Hank-worthy wordplay ("You must be studying cheating songs / To be so good at doing me wrong"); "Carla Came Home" is a nifty little song glorifying vigilantism against domestic abusers (less fascistic than "Beer for My Horses," more serious than "Goodbye Earl"); Matraca Berg drops by to co-write and co-sing the pretty-but-evil "Devil Behind the Wheel." It's a country record all right, and a damned fine one.
But that doesn't mean my man doesn't have a couple of copies of Tunnel of Love and The River in his collection. And there's nothing wrong with that, nothing at all. 14-Nov-2003 6:15 PM