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Tennessee Shines – 11/1 – Darrell Scott / Po Ramblin’ Boys / Chris Knight
November 1 @ 7:00 pm
Join WDVX for Tennessee Shines
with host Jim Lauderdale & special guests!
“It’s hard to know how people are gonna react,” Chris Knight says of Almost Daylight, his ninth album and first new recording in over seven years. “I’ve written songs about a lot of different things going all the way back to my first record, and some folks still think ‘somebody kills somebody’ is all I write about. Maybe that’s why I was bound and determined to get these particular songs on this album. If people like them, then we’ll be fine. But I wasn’t gonna do it any other way.”
For the past 20 years, Chris Knight has only made music his own way. He’s released eight acclaimed albums, played thousands of electrifying live shows and built generations of fervent fans from Texas honky-tonks to Manhattan rock clubs. He’s been hailed as “the last of a dying breed…a taciturn loner with an acoustic guitar and a college degree” (The New York Times) and “a storyteller in the best traditions of Mellencamp and Springsteen” (USA Today). Bottom line, he’s hard-earned his reputation as one of America’s most uncompromising and respected singer/songwriters. And now with Almost Daylight, Knight delivers the most powerful – and unexpected – music of his career.
Almost Daylight is very much a Chris Knight album, familiarly featuring vivid pictures of rural characters, desperate men and hardscrabble survivors. At the same time it’s unlike anything Knight has done before, with formidable testaments to compassion, redemption and even straight-up love. It’s an album both tough and tender, as bare-knuckled as it is open-hearted. “I do think there’s a cohesiveness to this album,” Knight explains in his thick Kentucky rasp.“The title is key, I suppose. Through all these songs, you could find a theme about seeking shelter.”
Produced, mixed and mastered by Grammy-winner Ray Kennedy – best-known for his 30+ year creative partnership with Steve Earle as well as producing Chris’ Enough Rope (2006),Trailer II (2009) and Little Victories (2012) albums – Almost Daylight also sounds like no other Knight record, with scorching guitars by Georgia Satellites founder and two-time Knight album producer Dan Baird, rich background vocals by Chris Clark, Siobhan Kennedy and Lee Ann Womack, and deeper instrumentation than ever before. “Chris had been playing some of these songs on the road and started developing ideas before we got to the studio,” Kennedy says. “He and I talked about keeping the Appalachian factor with banjo, fiddle, harmonica and mandolin where it felt right. It was significant that Dan was involved, as he’s the man who can play guitar with the right feeling for Chris. The background vocals really brought the fire, and this lead to ideas for piano, Hammond B-3, accordion and Wurlitzer electric piano. Everything evolved from the performance of each song and I let the songs dictate what they needed in order to evolve into an album.”
“I was determined not to do any acoustic songs on this album,” Chris explains. “I wanted it all to sound edgy and raw, but to feel big at the same time. We kept trying different approaches until I felt we landed on what worked. The thing is, some of my songs might take a year of writing before I even think they’re ready for recording and I fretted about every one of these. I’ve never put a cover song on any of my records before, but there are two covers on this one. And I think it all fits together pretty good.”
The album opens with “I’m William Callahan”, a defiant roar fueled by equal parts pride, memories and searing guitar. “Crooked Mile” is classic Knight, a piercing take on outsiders bound by love, while the poignant “Send It On Down” is a plaintive plea for salvation. There are tales of small-town despair (“I Won’t Look Back”), ominous rural menace (“Trouble Up Ahead”) and melancholic break-ups (“Everybody’s Lonely Now”). Chris’ cover of Johnny Cash’s “Flesh And Blood” – which originally appeared on the Dualtone 2002 tribute albumDressed In Black – is a poignant interpretation of Cash’s ode to devotion. The plainspoken positivity of “Go On” is one of Knight’s most life-affirming songs, while “The Damn Truth” is a ferociously clear-eyed look at our current cultural divide. The title track might be the most unexpected Knight song of all, an unapologetic paean to the power of love. “That’s probably my favorite song on the album,” Chris says, “because it’s closest to the truth.” He then quickly adds with a laugh, “I’m killin’ people with love now.” The album closes with yet another surprise; a joyfully raucous duet between Knight and longtime fan John Prine on Prine’s 1973 classic “Mexican Home”. “I love that song, but it took me 15 years to find a way to do it,” Knight says. “I kept playing around, changing the vocal key and finally landed on the spot. I’ve been singing it my kitchen table for the last few years, and when we were down to the last song, I knew this should be it.”
With the release of Almost Daylight, this native son of Slaughters, Kentucky (population 238) is eager to get back on the road and perform these songs for the faithful. Meanwhile, the singer/songwriter who was originally inspired by the likes of Prine and Earle now finds himself influencing a new generation of artists who revere Knight’s idiosyncratic talent and attitude. “There’s all kinds of different ways to make music, but this is the way I chose to do it,” Chris says. “If I don’t have something worth saying I’m not opening my mouth, which is probably why I took seven years to make this album.” And for an artist who has always defied expectations, Chris Knight’s next chapter indeed feels like the dawn of a new day. “I haven’t suited everybody, but every time I get a new fan it tells me I’m doing something right,” he says. “I think my previous records have set a precedent, if only for me at the very least. I just want people to think this one stands up to everything else I’ve done.”
Old Cane Back Rocker was developed over two consecutive weekend gigs in Arkansas and Colorado. Rather than sending the entire band back home in between weekends, Scott kept everyone out the following weekdays in a band house in Louisville, CO – so they could walk to Moxie Bread Co. every morning – and drive to Boulder everyday to record. So for three days with only a playlist of the songs sent to each player and a call to Scott’s friend, Nick Forster at eTown Studio in Boulder, The Darrell Scott String Band produced a set of tunes that pay homage to his cherished Kentucky upbringing along with showcasing the immense working relationship he maintains with the talented musicians who graced these songs.
“I am fortunate to play with amazing musicians,” Scott says, “I always have had my ear to the six winds to assess players and their strengths and the music we would make — electric or acoustic, two or five people, country, folk, blues, string players, grass, rocking, quiet or loud, whatever. The category does not matter as it is just a category. There has always been a group of great musicians near to help me get there, and yes, I am lucky.”
Led by the single “Kentucky Morning,” the song joins others in Scott’s catalog that gives a nod to his family’s musical traditions and heritage. “It’s literally my family’s story,” said Scott. “There’s a bit of fiction there because, at the end of the day, I’m a songwriter. I can make up stuff. But I start, in this case, from a factual view. It happened across the South – folks chasing work. There were car factories and steel mills near Chicago, and my dad worked in both. Two brothers were born in Dearborn, Michigan, and two in the Chicago area. So many people left, yet there was a part of my family that never did. That’s the thread that says, ‘Home is home. It’s not Chicago or Akron or anywhere else.’”
At a time when most people feel constantly distracted by technology and barraged by the news, authenticity and straightforward honesty are paramount. There’s something about the music of The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys that cuts right through the noise of the world and speaks plainly to the soul. Formed in the Smoky Mountains, The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys are at once exactly what you would expect and not at all what you would expect from a tattooed East Tennessee Bluegrass outfit. No strangers to hard work, the boys are as much at home riding in their restored Eagle tour bus as they are crawling underneath to fix it when it needs maintenance. But they take pride in being ambassadors of their genre, and the group has brought their music from rural bluegrass festival stages to the rock clubs of Europe, and even the GRAMMY Red Carpet, with stunning results. “I think to a certain extent everyone is just craving music that they can feel, and any music that feels real will reach any audience” says CJ Lewandowski, the groups founder, “We want to put bluegrass right where it’s least expected”. Perhaps this mindset is why the group earned the title of Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2018 IBMA Awards.
In 2014, Lewandowski was working at Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery in Sevierville, TN when the band first formed. The distillery employed musicians to play for visitors seven days a week, and Lewandowski, who primarily plays Mandolin and sings, was occasionally hired to fill in when the entertainment didn’t show. Eventually, the distillery approached him about forming a band for a full time slot, so he reached out to long time music friends Jereme Brown, who plays banjo for the group, and Josh Rinkel, who plays guitar. “Jereme was doing a lot of welding work at that time, and Josh was running a sign company”, says Lewandowski, “I think we were all ready to do something new, something with our music but we didn’t know when or how”. Bassist Jasper Lorentzen happened to be working in the tasting room at the distillery, and he turned out to be the perfect addition to the band. The four friends played multiple times a week for a year and half, honing their band sound, meanwhile word was spreading about their music. “The first gig we played out of town was a festival in Alberta, Canada, and a week later we went on a two week tour of Europe, it was crazy”, says Lewandowski. In 2020, the finishing touch, the cherry on top if you will, was added to the quartet. Laura Orshaw, a seasoned fiddle player and singer joined the Boys after contributing her talents to the Sound Biscuit Productions’ full Gospel album, “God’s Love is So Divine” and “Toils, Tears, & Trouble.” On the addition C.J. exclaims “after 5 1/2 together as a four piece, we needed that perfect fit that would not only fit us on stage and recording, but a personality that would add to the band and be a part of the family we have created. Laura was that person and we can’t think of anyone else that fits our music and our family better than her. The show has benefitted so much from Laura and the chemistry we have between the now 5 of us.”
Material for the group’s freshman Rounder Records album “Toil, Tears & Teouble,” was a combination of original songs and old numbers that honor the group’s mentors and bluegrass heroes. “We love to dig up old songs that haven’t been heard in years and bring them back into the spotlight”, explains Lewandowski. In fact, two of those gems on the Rounder album, “Next Train South” and “Hickory, Walnut & Pine,” were nominated for IBMA Song of the Year along with “Next Train South” taking the trophy for SPBGMA same category in 2020. The momentum of “Toil, Tears & Trouble” has continued to grow with the band’s first GRAMMY Nomination for Best Bluegrass Album.
The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys passion for bluegrass is as clear as it is contagious. With a heavy touring schedule across the United States and Europe and recent Grammy Nomination with Rounder Records, the Boys are well on their way to becoming the quintessential bluegrass band of their generation. Despite all of their recent success, they maintain a humble perspective. “Bluegrass has left such a mark on us that we feel like we owe something back to the music”, says Lewandowski. “We want to do something for the music to show our appreciation… There’s no telling what could have happened to us, what we would have become if we hadn’t found this music. It’s gotten us through a lot, the good and the bad. When I think about all of the damn medications that I didn’t have to take because I had music to turn to. We didn’t have to go to the doctor and pay for something to make us feel better, because we had this music, so we really want to honor it by bringing it out of the shadows and onto new stages and wider audiences. Because we know that if we can bring Bluegrass to new folks, those folks will come with us and support the bluegrass community.”