Chris Knight's latest continues to mine the rural milieu that populated his first three releases. But where his earlier work typically focused on anger and desperation, his latest songs display a broader range of emotions; at the same time, Dan Baird's organic, earthy arrangements have been replaced by the more straightforward production of Gary Nicholson. Knight's gruffly earnest vocals remain the sonic centerpiece, but the fuller, electric arrangements of songs like "River Road" and "Up from the Hill" distract from the lyrical visions.
Rough-and-tumble characters still populate much of Knight's universe, including the retired brawler "Jack Blue," the defiant second-generation protagonist "William's Son," and the angry rural naturalist of "Dirt." But there's also hope to be found in the estranged road warrior of "Too Close to Home," bittersweet joy and derailed dreams in "Enough Rope," and forlorn hope in the romance-on-a-string of "Cry Lonely." Knight even looks to the future, albeit cynically, with the bored and lonely "Old Man."
Nicholson's work as producer isn't nearly as imaginative as was Baird's, and Knight's desire to up the rock quotient doesn't lead him to his best material. Still, Knight's a unique and truly engaging storytelle, with both pen and voice, and his regional accent adds a sense of place that's typically bleached away by Nashville. This album isn't the artistic breakthrough of 2001's "A Pretty Good Guy," but it does show Knight striving in fruitful new songwriting directions.