Chris Knight's sophomore release could be a sequel to Steve Earle's "Guitar Town," if the frustrated inhabitants of the latter saw their budding desperation maturing into fatal hopelessness. Knight turns the youthful indiscretions chronicled by Earle into freedom-ending mistakes, and whether his protagonists are suffering the impossibilities of a mountain winter or contending with the grinding boredom of a desolate oil patch town, they find few roads out of their circumstance.
Producer Dan Baird has surrounded Knight with sympathetic players who connect with his dark (and occasionally darkly ironic) stories. Tammy Rogers' fiddle adds a chilling moan to "North Dakota," and the guitars of "Highway Junkie" focus and blur like the road dots of an all-night run. Each track frames Knight's lyrics for maximum impact, whether cranking up blues-edged country-rock or stripping down to stark acoustic folk.
Knight's "Nebraska"-like bleakness provides a native's view of rural life. Though he may not have personally suffered all the ravages of which he writes, he's had a firsthand view and documents what he's seen with an astonishingly frank and unflinching voice. You won't likely find yourself singing along to these songs of retribution and wit's end, but you will revisit them over and over, absorbing more of their emotional wallop with each spin.