Chris Knight doesn’t like to say much. Won’t chat about his worldview or engage in conversations on his creative approach. For 17 years, several acclaimed albums and a hard-nosed career that’s been hailed as “where Cormac McCarthy meets Copperhead Road”, Knight has always let his music do most of the talking. And on record – as well everywhere across America, from roadhouse taverns to major-city concert halls – his songs have had plenty to say. But with his most recent album, Little Victories (September 2012), Chris Knight has taken the discussion to a whole new level.
His first album of new material since 2008, Little Victories is a record of blunt honesty, elegiac truths and the raw rural poetry of an artist who’s come into his own and intends to stay. And for a performer who’s been compared over the years to Cash, Prine, Earle and Nebraska-era Springsteen, Knight now stands alone as a singer/songwriter that has carved his own idiosyncratic sound and sensibility out of the dirt road American dream. Little Victories not only sounds like a Chris Knight album, but the best Chris Knight album yet.
Little Victories also marked a reunion with producer Ray Kennedy, who’d engineered and mastered Knight’s seminal Enough Rope and two Trailer Tapes albums and is well known for his work with Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, John Mellencamp and Lucinda Williams. The album’s 11 songs purely rank among Knight’s finest. And if the title track not only finds Knight at his most cheerily optimistic (for Chris, at least), it also features vocals from his lifelong musical hero John Prine. “When I was 16, I got a John Prine songbook and learned about 40 of his songs,” Knight explains. “Used to play them for the kids in study hall at school every day. About 20 years later, I finally got to meet him when I opened a few shows for him. He asked me to come out and sing “Paradise” as part of his encore, and I got to play the blonde Martin guitar that was on the cover of his first album. I sent him “Little Victories” and he liked the song enough to be on it.” Chris treasures the moment when the two first listened to the playback of their distinctive twangs rasping joyfully together on the chorus. “‘Prine turned to me and said, ‘We sound pretty good together. Just like Phil and Don Everly.’”
So after 17 years, 8 albums and a still uncompromised reputation as one of the best singer/songwriters in America, what has Chris Knight learned from it all? “I’ve learned that I’m pretty lucky to do what I do and make a living at it,” he says. “I’m really proud of this record, and it’ll be fun to play these songs live. For people who like my music and maybe even for someone hearing me for the first time, I think they’ll find songs on here that mean something to them and they can hang on to. I don’t want to talk about it too much, but I think people are gonna be surprised.”
And for Chris Knight, that’s victory enough.
A good night out drinking can find us making best friends out of people we’ve just met, but the best nights out are the ones that catch us unexpectedly sharing our innermost feelings and secrets with a complete stranger. Those uninhibited moments of truth and vulnerability are the same ones mined by Dallas singer-songwriter Joshua Ray Walker on his debut full-length Wish You Were Here. Through his incisive songwriting, Walker faithfully captures both the highs and lows of working class living.
In 2018, Walker opened for several of Texas’ favorite acts, such as Old 97’s, Eleven Hundred Springs, Two Tons of Steel, Vandoliers and James Hand at legendary venues like The Blue Light in Lubbock, Stubbs in Austin and The Dance Hall at Luckenbach. For an average of 250 nights a year, Dallas’ classic country torchbearer shares pieces of himself with an effortless sincerity that has brought his audience to both tears and laughter – often at the same time. Told through a melodic, character-driven writing style that’s honest to a fault, Walker depicts a cast of subjects on his debut that are down but never out.
There’s the portrait of a 13-year-old lady of the streets painted in his lead single “Working Girl,” which melds an up-tempo melody with clever wordplay projecting the strengths and struggles of a young woman just “doing what she’s gotta do to get by.”
“I often unintentionally write from the perspective of characters that I dream up,” says Walker. “I can usually attribute a character to a person I’ve met, or people that I’ve known, combined with similar traits I find in myself. If it’s by poor decisions or circumstances beyond their control, I find inspiration from the downtrodden and destitute. I see myself in these characters. I use these characters to explore things about myself in songs I’d otherwise be too self-conscious to write about.”
But Wish You Were Here’s best moments come when Walker sets aside the pretense of his characters, letting down his guard on tracks like the second single, “Canyon,” to reveal his own fears, biggest insecurities and insatiable longing felt throughout his father’s ongoing battle against Stage 4 lung cancer.
“I’m a big, big man,” he sings in its gut-wrenching chorus. “Not just in size or in stature, but in terms of space that can’t be filled. I’m a bottomless canyon without a drop to spill.”
Raised on the sounds of the Smoky Mountains, Walker has been playing music since he was a small child, walking next door to his grandfather’s house — an avid bluegrass fan and novice musician himself — every day after school to listen to records together. He also learned his first banjo and guitar tunes in his grandfather’s workshop. It wasn’t long before Walker grew into a well-seasoned multi-instrumentalist by grade-school and a working musician since the age of 13.
After playing in bands throughout his teens, Walker wrote his first country song, “Fondly,” in the early morning, on Christmas Eve, 2009 -- just hours after his grandfather passed away from lung cancer that had only been diagnosed two weeks prior.
“Death and disease in loved ones seems to be a common theme in my life,” Walker admits. “I think it’s given me an intense understanding of the brevity of life. Sometimes that’s what drives me to create something worthwhile, and sometimes it’s just the motivation behind my anxiety, but either way it plays a large role in my life and music.”
That’s not to say Wish You Were Here is comprised of nothing but tear-jerkers. For every “Canyon,” that lays itself bare at your feet, there’s the wry, self-deprecating humor of a “Last Call,” that jokes about it being better, at the end of the night, to just get out of the bar before the lights come on. For every “Keep,” where the discovery of an ex’s old trinkets sends the narrator over the proverbial cliff, there’s a “Love Songs,” that gives a lighthearted kiss-off to lovers past.
Recorded by John Pedigo of The O’s (Old 97’s, Vandoliers) at Dallas Audio (where Willie Nelson recorded Red Headed Stranger) and Studio B at Modern Electric Sound Recorders, Joshua Ray Walker’s debut instantly earmarks him as one of Texas’ most gifted lyricists and musicians and a major force in the songwriting community moving forward.
“Life is about timing I guess,” Walker says. “I haven’t changed my approach or work ethic in years, but people are starting to pay attention. I’m glad it took this long. If it had been possible to make my record any sooner, it wouldn’t be this record that I’m very proud we made.”