Chris Knight doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who enjoys celebrating too many things. So let’s celebrate for him on his 61st birthday on June 24, 2021, by rehashing a few of his best tunes.
Over the last 20 years, no other singer/songwriter—sans Robert Earl Keen—has struck a more profound chord with me than Chris Knight. The Slaughters, Kentucky, native was 38 years old when he released his self-titled debut album in 1998. Yeah, he got a late start. But he was busy working as a coal mine inspector during the decade prior. (Sidebar: I’m constantly amazed at the level of songwriting that comes from Kentucky natives like Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, Tylers Childers, and more—but that’s an article for another day).
My greatest fear as a lover of music (and journalist) is that Chris Knight won’t be truly appreciated until he’s gone. It’s a horrible thought, I know. But Knight reminds me—in so many ways—of his late hero, John Prine, who died in 2020. Or the late Guy Clark. Or the late Townes Van Zandt. I could go on and on.
During their lifetimes, Prine, Clark, and Van Zandt all achieved some level of acclaim. But in my opinion, they weren’t properly celebrated or acknowledged for their contributions while alive. Likewise, Chris Knight deserves a bigger audience, but in all honesty, I’m not sure he wants one. From an outsider’s perspective, he seems perfectly content creating music at his own pace (his 2019 album, Almost Daylight, was his first in seven years) and playing small venues throughout the South, among other areas. That’s great news for me, because I catch a handful of his shows each year.
Let’s take a look at three of my favorite Chris Knight songs. First, a handful of honorable mentions that are must-listens: “Down the River,” “House and 90 Acres,” “The River’s Own,” “Love and a .45,” and “Go On.”
‘It Ain’t Easy Being Me’
Featured on his 1998 self-titled debut album, “It Ain’t Easy Being Me” probably classifies as Chris’ most “well-known” song. The tune was a blue-collar, edgy, and self-destructive (hence, the demolition derby) introduction to Chris’ catalog. The title is exactly what Chris should have printed on his business cards . . . if he had business cards.
Solely penned by Knight and featured on his 2006 album, Enough Rope, “Old Man” is my favorite example of Chris’ otherworldly writing ability. It’s an honest, and dark, and enlightening assessment of Father Time through the eyes of an old man. Chris’ haggard delivery makes my eyes well up: “Don’t wanna die / Till I’ve lived too long / They’ll sell this place / Whenever I’m gone / I miss my sweetheart so / And they way she used to smile / I miss them kids of mine / Runnin’ wild / When daylight fades / In late afternoon / Bout all I know is / It was gone to soon.”
Included on his 2001 sophomore album, A Pretty Good Guy, “North Dakota” is a haunting example of Chris’ remarkable storytelling ability. It’s a bleak, cold tale. And you can almost feel the North Dakota chill coursing through your veins when Chris sings the dirge. Of course, death is a common theme throughout Chris’ catalog, accidental or intentional. But always enjoyable.