“There oughta be a sideshow act for freaks like me,” sang Chris Knight in “It Ain’t Easy Being Me”, the minor hit from his 1998 self-titled debut. Back then the Kentucky singer-songwriter was being groomed by Decca/MCA as the next Steve Earle, although with studio backing by seasoned Nashville sessionmen, Knight never really got to fully cut loose. 2001’s A Pretty Good Guy and 2003’s The Jealous Kind both fared better aesthetically, if not commercially. With Enough Rope, produced by Gary Nicholson and mixed by Earle’s buddy Ray Kennedy, Knight isn’t just rattling the bars of his cage, he’s bending ’em wide open.
The namesake of the twang ‘n’ strum album opener “Jack Blue” always seems to find trouble no matter how hard he tries to rein in his dark side. Out at the “cinderblock juke-joint” of “River Road”, you’ll hear some lowdown CCR/Tony Joe White swamp-choogle. And the hypnotic, slide-guitar-fueled “Dirt”, about developers and polluters ruining a rural paradise and “treatin’ my Grandpa’s land like dirt,” rings true in the same way the Drive-By Truckers’ The Dirty South rang true.
Knight can get soulful when he wants to, as on the nocturnal heartbreak ode “Cry Lonely” (which is just begging to have Lucinda Williams cover it). But overall, Enough Rope is a barnstormer, evidence that Knight finally has that little corner of the rock ‘n’ roll carnival he’s been hankering for since “It Ain’t Easy Being Me”.