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Cheri Knight

The Northeast Kingdom – 1998 (D-Squared)

Reviewed by Brian Steinberg

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CDs by Cheri Knight

It's tempting to put the focus here on Steve Earle - this is, after all, one of his label's releases - but Cheri Knight has enough moxie and nuance to get out from under the Big Man' s shadow. Formerly with the Blood Oranges, Knight pushes forth ringing country pop and sad, cathartic Appalachian - and Celtic-flavored tunes with equal abandon. Her honeyed voice drips down slow and sultry on "Sweetheart" and "Dar Glasgow" (the latter features Emmylou Harris on guest vocals). On "White Lies," and "If Wishes Were Horses," Knight helms a power-pop country band, singing songs so catchy they curl up in your brain for hours.

Producers Earle and Ray Kennedy like their roadhouse loud and sweet, and the production sometimes threatens to overwhelm Knight's voice, which hovers at the lower end of the songbird range. Despite ringing guitars and perky rhythms, Knight's songs are tinged with sadness and resignation. "Tread lightly 'round me, cause I'm all blue," she sings on one selection, and that thought echoes throughout the album. On "White Lies," she speaks of "leaving the light on to make you think I'm home...keeping to myself to make you think I'm alone." She's "having my fun with the one who betrayed me," and the results make for stunning ear-candy. "I have prayed for better days. This is not to be," she sings on "If Wishes Were Horses, which buries the heartbreak with Tammy Rogers' fiddle.

Still, when Cheri Knight locks in, the tear-in-your-beer self-recriminations that often come with the single life never sounded so good.