Chris Knight doesn't offer feel-good country, but it sure is good
Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., April 29, 1998
SOMERVILLE - If you were looking for a light, good time evening of music, Johnny D's was not the place to be Wednesday.
But if you were looking for three songwriters of varying styles - one spare, dense and dark (Richard Buckner), one a fine storyteller with a country rock sound (Chris Knight) and a third a literate singer/songwriter type (John Flynn), you were in the right setting.
Buckner, who played solo acoustic, has long mined dark topics, usually about relationships. His voice was in fine form, proving expressive throughout his hour-long set.
He does not possess the most polished or graceful of voices, but his lyrics, of course, don't warrant that.
After awhile, however, a little variety could have helped. there was nary a light touch throughout - at least musically. While not much of a talker, Buckner did at least tell two funny road stories, involving rock music. More of that would have helped.
Buckner is quite good at what he does. One only wishes he would do more.
Knight, a native of Kentucky, quickly brought to mind country rock of yesteryear along with about equal doses of Steve Earle and Fred Eaglesmith.
None, of course, are negative comparisons. Knight, who often sings with a Southern drawl, is a fine storyteller in the Earle tradition.
In the acoustic "William," off his very fine self-titled debut, Knight tells the story of a childhood friend who was abused as a kid. The stark, emotion-wrought story forces the listener to wonder what will happen to William. Eventually, he is killed robbing a store. Knight proved he did not need a band to bring the song to higher heights.
In "It Ain't Easy Being Me," Knight turns inward, singing, "There ought be a town somewhere/Named for how I feel/Yeah I could be the Mayor down there/And say welcome to Sorryville."
Knight not only practices fine songcraft, but is a good singer to boot.
Perhaps given that this was really the first night of his tour, the laid-back Knight could have ranked higher on the charisma scale.
But his songs more than made up for it.
Knight was the most accessible of the three, perhaps in part because he had a four-piece backing band with him, helping flesh out the songs. The strong band, including guitarists John Bunzow and former Bostonian Ty Tyler along with drummer Billy Beard, another Boston-area native, and bassist Mike Bush.
Knight's brand of country isn't likely to get played on commercial radio any time soon. It's their loss.
Flynn, playing solo acoustic, is a keen writer and good singer. Flynn invoked humor into his songs, such as "Two Letters" where every word in the chorus was two letters long.
But he also could make his point ("Who's Whose") where he questions the materialist lifestyle.
The music of Buckner, Knight and Flynn may have not been for the faint of heart, but it sure was good.