Chris Knight

The Grey Eagle and Worthwhile Sounds Present

Chris Knight

Josh Smith (of Handsome & The Humbles)

Sat, July 13, 2019

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

$20.00 - $30.00

This event is all ages

SEATED SHOW

Chris Knight
Chris Knight
Ten years and five acclaimed albums into one of the most uncompromising careers in American music, the singer/songwriter whose work has been compared to Prine, Cash and Nebraska-era Springsteen by some the toughest music writers in America may have finally conquered his most demanding critic of all: himself.

“Right now, this is my favorite record,” Chris Knight says of his new album, Heart Of Stone. “It might just be my best. For some reason, there’s a cohesiveness here that’s not like anything I’ve done before. But at the same time, it’s not real predictable. There’s a lot of texture to it as well, but it’s a simple record. I don’t know how that happened. But I know it when I hear it.”

Then again, Knight has always been an artist of fierce instinct and uncommon paradox. A former strip-mine reclamation inspector, Knight still lives in the rural coal town of Slaughters, Kentucky (population 200) where he was born and raised. But it’s been on record – as well as everywhere from rowdy Texas roadhouses to hushed New York City theaters – where Chris has forged the reputation for a stark and often-ferocious honesty that led one writer to call his music “where Cormac McCarthy meets Copperhead Road.”

“I still don’t know what to call myself,” says Chris. “When people ask me what kind of music I play, I tell ‘em my music is country and rock and folk and roots rock and even pop. I think this album sounds that way, too.” Produced by Dan Baird (of Georgia Satellites fame, as well as producer of Knight’s widely-praised A Pretty Good Guy and The Jealous Kind discs), the 12 songs on Heart Of Stone represent a creative maturity unlike anything Knight has done before. The music itself is a richly organic sonic mosaic where snarling guitars and pounding drums live alongside mournful violas, plucky banjos, B-3 organ and even the occasional trombone and bouzouki. And for an artist known for his narratives about busted lives and broken dreams, Knight’s new songs now carry a hard-fought wisdom that gives his characters deeper seams of pain, pride and ultimately, hope. “I’m conscious that I know a lot more than I did 7 or 8 years ago,” Chris says. “Lately I’ve been writing about more internalized thoughts and situations, about what I feel rather than maybe tell a story. I can’t keep playing the same thing or telling the same stories in different ways. Getting comfortable with what you do is a big part of it, I guess. I wasn’t afraid to say what I think, play what I play, or put what I want on this record.”

“These are the songs of a grown man,” says producer Dan Baird, “and it’s not just the lower body count. Chris is much more comfortable with his voice, his writing and the recording process than he’s ever been before. He wanted to make a really lowdown record, kind of like a rock band playing these really rural songs. And I wanted to try anything to get as much of who Chris is now on the record as possible.” Baird, who co-wrote 4 of the album’s songs, took a wholly organic approach to letting Knight and the musicians find the songs in the studio.

“We set up a small drum kit, 2 amps and a little p.a. in one corner for Chris and the band to flesh-out the songs together. So rather than do a chart, put on headphones and make a mess of it while we tried to figure out why Chris wanted to kick every ass in the room, we all tried different stuff until we found the feel he was looking for. It was kind of a Blind Man’s Bluff and Easter Egg Hunt rolled into one sometimes, but when we got it right we’d jump to our positions and record it. We knew it when we heard it.”

The unpredictable power and texture of Heart Of Stone makes itself clear with “Homesick Gypsy,” the potent opening track driven by parade drums, slide guitar, trombone, banjo and bouzouki. “Hell Ain’t Half Full” is a razor-edged rocker with an unflinchingly fierce moral core.

“Almost There” is a sinister snarl of hard-luck, while “Another Dollar” explodes with vicious guitars and Chris’ surprisingly howling vocals. There’s a mournful strength to “Danville”, hardcore regret in “Miles To Memphis” and a coming-out-of-the dark joy to “Maria”. He delivers both sides of love-gone-wrong with the unexpected optimism of “Something To Keep Me Going” and the haunting pain of “My Old Cars”. Knight is at the peak of his storytelling power with “Crooked Road”, an elderly miner’s heartbreaking elegy to “good dreams gone cold” filled with love, loss, doubt and faith. But it’s the album’s title track that may be most unforeseen tale of all, in which broken promises and a broken home cannot break a struggling man’s resolve. And while the album’s closer “Go On Home” may seem like a taciturn mission statement, Chris’s plainspoken standpoint is tempered with tenacity, acceptance and a defiant wisdom. “They’re all pretty hard-nosed songs,” Chris admits. “But it’s as unified as collection as I’ve ever recorded. People may not always agree with the attitude of my music, but my point of view has always been pretty clear. With this album, it’s probably more visible. I want to be able to stand on stage singing these songs and have people believe that what I’m saying is the way that I feel.” For fans, critics and even Knight himself, this record is the one where it all comes together.

It’s an album that is alternately raw and rocking, quietly powerful and significantly truthful in its scope. Most of all, Heart Of Stone is the sound of a remarkable artist coming into his own.

You’ll know it when you hear it.
Josh Smith (of Handsome & The Humbles)
Josh Smith (of Handsome & The Humbles)
In his day job, the gig that pays the bills until his band — Handsome and the Humbles — gets the recognition (and the payday) it so richly deserves, Josh Smith spends his days listening.

He’s a physical therapist assistant, and that merry twinkle in his eyes and ever-present smile puts his patients at ease. As he encourages them and puts them through the routines that bring their frail and wounded bodies back to health, they open up to the East Tennessee boy, and in turn, he gives them his mind and his imagination as well as his hands.

“It gets you thinking about things,” he says. “Hearing about people who have been through a lot more than I have makes me think, ‘How would I handle that? Am I as good as this person?’ I’m a lucky guy — I’ve got a great family and great friends, and I wonder sometimes what my life would be if I had to go through what they have.”

It would be easy to think that “We’re All the Same,” the new album by Handsome and the Humbles, is a collection of those stories, filtered through Smith’s keen eye of observation and the band’s deft musical chops that fit the prototypical Americana mold. But that’s too simplistic: These are songs written by a soul that’s older than the years of the body that carries it, played by a group of guys who have grown as instrumentalists into a capable ensemble that renders each track with the sort of nuance necessary to embolden the message. This isn’t your prototypical three-chord country-rock, nor is it a rehash of 2016’s “Have Mercy.” In these troubled times, when division and discord pass for normalcy and disagreement has become a yawning chasm of separation, “We’re All the Same” embraces the idea that hope can bridge that gap.

“It’s about feeling uncomfortable, and realizing we all feel that,” Smith says. “It’s about recognizing that we all feel these things we may never talk about.”

Like most of the characters in his songs, Smith began to ask himself those uncomfortable questions as a younger man. Raised in Clinton, Tenn., just outside of Knoxville, his childhood and formative years were centered around his faith. He even started out working for a small town church, but he came to realize that the fundamentalist dogma to which it subscribed didn’t sit well with his core beliefs of tolerance and acceptance.

"It just occurred to me that everything I'd been taught, everything I was repeating without thinking about it, wasn't really what I believed," he says. "Deep down, I knew that these certain things weren't right. I knew this wasn't the way to treat people. I started to wake up, I guess you could say."

And so he turned to an outlet that allowed him to further explore that awakening: music. Influenced by artists like Springsteen, Dylan and Ryan Adams, he positioned himself as a seeker of greater truths and a teller of stories descended from the rich tradition of oral narrators who bring to life the hardscrabble men and women who carve lives out of those rugged East Tennessee hills. Upon hearing his songs, two old friends — Tyler Huff and Jason Chambers — abandoned their plans to start a cover band, opting instead to bring Smith’s songs to life.

“To be able to make things out of nothing with my friends — people I’ve known for so long — is pretty special to me,” Smith says. “I don’t know how I lucked into knowing such talented people. I feel like I write a good song, and then they make it so much more than I ever thought about it being.”

Handsome and the Humbles is rounded out by Josh Hutson and Chris Bratta, two veterans of the East Tennessee music scene. Both are recent additions to the band, and Hutson was one of a multitude of Humbles, past and present, who helped sculpt the songs on “We’re All the Same” into poignant observations of humanity. It’s a particular point of pride for Smith that the album features contributions from his former bandmates— multi-instrumentalist Zack Miles, a singer-songwriter who’s pursuing his own career, and drummer Lauryl Brisson, who are joined by frequent band contributor Jay Birkbeck and a couple of Knoxville scene heavy hitters: Mic Harrison, formerly of The V-Roys, Superdrag and frontman of Mic Harrison and The High Score, as well as Andrew Leahey, who leads the Homestead as one of Tennessee’s brightest young roots-rock bands. Smith’s wife, Erin, even contributes some harmonies.

Together, they’ve made a record that’s deftly composed, sweetly nuanced and epically sprawling. It’s the equivalent of a time-traveling drone, hovering a hundred feet over the East Tennessee ground, recording places that feel familiar even to those who have never lived here, because the human condition knows no geographical boundaries. “We’re All the Same” is more than a title; it’s a mission statement, and in these songs, listeners from the Bay Area to the Florida Keys will hear themselves — their fragile hearts, their optimistic dreams, their wistful sorrows — in every line.

The tone is set with “Back Home,” the lead-off track that begins as a simple acoustic lamentation, written from the perspective of an old man remembering the place he left behind: “When I breathe my last, would you send me back home, to that Tennessee clay, where they’ll lay down my bones?” As the rest of the band slowly joins in, it transitions into one of those wise-beyond-his-years observations that make Smith such a gifted songwriter: that the miles traveled and the things seen seldom bring the same comfort as the places to which we all hope to return.

“It’s about an old man who thought he needed to leave to find something, and so he just left everything,” Smith says. “A lot of these songs are me writing about other people, but there’s something personal about it for me when I do.”

References to home abound on the new record, from chiming R.E.M.-style guitars on “Down to the Wire” to the melodic dance between six-string and keys on “Tried So Hard,” in which Smith returns to the faith of his youth, an anchor that became an albatross, but like most things, one that provides both solace and regret when viewed through the lens of time. Those ghosts show up again on “Rebel,” the band shuffling through a Southern blues groove while Smith moans about the real terror of “kids packing pistols … loaded up on pills,” and by the time the record ambles toward its twilight, the players have locked in on a sound that calls to mind early Son Volt, and the characters in those songs claw desperately for a little light to beat back the darkness. The harmonies of “What Could Have Been” give way to the glorious ache of “Now and Then.’ “Think about me,” Smith pleads as the album crosses the finish line, every note perfect, every guitar channeling the things these guys feel so keenly: Sorrow abides, hope never dies and love is eternal.

Those themes are universal ones, and “We’re All the Same” serves as an ideal declaration of union between the hearts of men and women. It’s a gem of an album, even by the rigorous standards of the East Tennessee music scene, and in these turbulent times, it feels like a necessary one.

“I don’t want to pretend that we’re making some grand statement, because that was never the point,” Smith says. “We don’t write about politics or social issues or things like that, even though we might have those opinions. But the things we do write about, I’d like to think, show that we can find some common ground despite those differences. We all know love. We all know hope. And if we can spend more time listening to each other instead of shouting at one another, I think we’ll see that those things are more important.”

-Steve Wildsmith
Venue Information:
The Grey Eagle
185 Clingman Ave
Asheville, NC, 28801
http://www.thegreyeagle.com/