Pop Life

Rotation: Trailer Tapes

Chris Knight The Trailer Tapes Drifters Church Records

In the summer of 1996, Houstonian Frank Liddell and a 22-year old engineer named Joe Hayden took some beer, guns, fishing poles, and a portable tape machine up to Chris Knight's mobile home in Slaughter, Kentucky. Knight wasn't on the national radar yet; that would come with the release of Chris Knight in 1998. But the wheels for Knight's career were already in motion and to Liddell it was apparent that Knight's life was about to change drastically. Liddell recalls the spirit of recording Knight in the very mobile home where he wrote this first batch of songs as "fun and hobby-esque." After Knight's first album skyrocketed him to the top of the Americana scene, the tapes became the stuff of Nashville rumor and legend. Some leaked out over the years, passed from hand to hand.

Chris Knight
Publicists and critics like to toss around phrases like "sounds like it was recorded in the living room," but The Trailer Tapes actually was. It's just Knight and his guitar, and from the chilling opening growl of "where the hell's the sun" Knight is as compelling as anyone on the scene. While critics have for years repeated a mantra that Knight sounds like Steve Earle, John Mellencamp, John Prine, and Bruce Springsteen, on this one Knight reminds me of Hank Williams with a gun and a Vicodin 'script. There's pain, anger, and surly I-don't-give-a-damn unreasonableness in Knight's throat, an end of the world voice reminiscent of author Robert Stone. Only three of these raw-bone songs — "Something Changed," "House and 90 Acres," and "If I Were You" -- have made it on to Knight's studio records, and that's a shame because "Rita's Only Fault" and "Move On" are lawless, real, and dangerous as a rusty razor in a speed freak's pocket. With lines like "I've got a pistol, all you've got is a knife / so you better move on if it ain't worth your life," these trailer tapes make for absolutely essential Chris Knight, one of the edgiest writers ever to hit Nashville. -- William Michael Smith

Chris Knight will be preforming selections from The Trailer Tapes Tuesday, February 20 at McGonigel's Mucky Duck , 2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999. The album will be in stores April 3, but can be pre-ordered online at chrisknight.net.

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William Michael Smith