The difference between good and bad country music usually comes down to how the story's told. Bad country songwriters deal with all the standard themes - lost dogs, cheatin' wives, worrisome fluctuations in the GDP - like a condescending sixth grade teacher: see Jack lose his low-paying factory job, see Jack lose hope, see Jack open a meth lab, see Jack carted away to do 10 in the pen while his "pritty little daughter" stands by watching. Good country music writers tell the same story, but make sure the character's Sisyphean struggle has a bit more gravitas than the songs that rely on rhyming "honky tonk" with "donkey donk." In other words: good country songwriters know how to turn a phrase or two.
Chris Knight confirms his status as one of the good ones with "Little Victories," his eighth release since his debut back in '98. "Sometimes I wonder where my next dollar gonna come from," he sings over a mandolin and guitar intro on In The Meantime, "I keep my head up, if sumptin' falls out of the sky," portraying the always positive perspective of the man who's still down and out.
In You Lie When You Call My Name, Knight says "what you are, you shout so loudly, I foresee your every move" as he sings a song of love gone bad while on the album's title cut, Little Victories, he manages to tell an entire life story in just four lines:
"I got the Honda 125 runnin', took the back roads to the store.
'Bout 35 degrees but it sure feels good to not be walkin' no more.
I got some milk, bread and baloney, some Little Debbies and some Mountain Dew.
Sometime when I ain't got the groceries, gonna see what this thing can do."
Musically, "Little Victories" is in the tried-and-true Chris Knight style: the melodies are easy enough to sing along to (as they should be), and his voice has the gritty edge of a man who spends winter in a cabin, skinning deer and chopping wood.
Musically, the arrangements are heavy on the mandolin and guitar, paying respects to everyone from his original inspiration, Steve Earle, to the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Young and John Hiatt. Which is to say, if you like them (or any of Knight's previous records), you'll dig "Little Victories."
This review originally appeared on Country Standard Time.
Michael Verity is a writer, photographer and producer based in Portland, OR. He's regular contributor to Relix, American Songwriter, Country Standard Time and Acoustic Music Pinboard, among others.
He lives on a farm with his wife, two cats, three kids, four dogs and several thousand albums that never seem to find their way into alphabetical order.