Sometimes it's the little victories that can make life worthwhile.
Riding into town for some bread, bologna, Little Debbie snacks and a cold Mountain Dew is just one example from Chris Knight's "Little Victories," the title track from his 2012 album that also features an appearance by his songwriting hero, John Prine.
8:30 p.m. Friday, Rev Room, 300 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock
The song, a plainspoken country-folk tune that leans more toward country than folk, is vintage Knight, the 57-year-old singer-songwriter who grew up in Breton Bottoms, Ky., and went to school in nearby Slaughters. Besides the junk-food grocery trip, he sings about having venison in the freezer and fixing his truck so he can make a few dollars hauling wood. "I know I ain't setting the world on fire," he sings, "but I think I got it pretty good."
It's also a sharp character study of rural life that has nothing to do with girls sitting on tailgates, and the only back road is the one taken to the store on a barely running little motorbike. Like Steve Earle, James McMurtry and Hayes Carll, Knight's songwriting cuts a little closer to the bone.
He and his band will perform Friday at the Rev Room in Little Rock.
"It's hard for me just to write a groove song," he says. "It's hard to get interested in it. I have written songs without a real story behind them, but there's always some kind of subject matter that interests me."
There's a hard-bitten optimism that courses through Little Victories, Knight's most recent album. "Out of This Hole" and the driving "In the Mean Time" are odes to self-reliance and determination. And then there's "Nothin' on Me," in which the narrator promises that he's tough enough to make it through hard times. It could almost be a sequel to "A Pretty Good Guy," the title track to his 2001 album.
It's not on purpose, he says: "It works out that way, but I don't consciously do it like that."
He has recorded a proper follow-up with at least one character, though. "William's Son," from 2006's Enough Rope, carries on a story Knight started on "William," a song about a childhood friend from the debut.
"I smoked my first cigarette with him and he was already drinking beer," Knight says of the boy who partially inspired the track.
Knight grew up hanging out with his buddies in Slaughters and started playing guitar when he was in high school.
"Slaughters might be 200 people," he figures. "There was old men sitting out in front of the store. There was a hardware store, a dry good store, a grocery store. They've torn all that down now. It's pretty slow."
Going to town on a Saturday night meant heading over to nearby Sebree to raise a little hell.
"They had a cop that you had to watch out for," he says, "but he was all right."
Knight still lives near Slaughters with his wife, Debbie. The oldest of their three children just started college at the University of Kentucky.
After high school, Knight enrolled at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, earning a degree in agriculture.
"My dad talked me into taking classes and it stuck," he says. "I'd probably be digging ditches around Slaughters if I hadn't gone to college."
After college, he went to work in the mining industry, eventually becoming a strip mine inspector for the state.
By the late '90s, though, the pull of songwriting had grown too strong to ignore and Knight left the mining business. He signed with Decca Records in 1998 and released his self-titled debut that same year.
He hasn't returned to the studio since Little Victories, but it's just a matter of time.
"I hope to get something out soon," he says. "I've got to get into the studio to get some songs recorded. It's gotten to where I'm a little more picky about what I want to record. I don't have a huge pile of songs. I'm writing a good bit, though, and most of them are down on tape with just guitar and vocals."
Weekend on 09/07/2017
*CORRECTION: The Chris Knight show at the Rev Room in Little Rock is 8:30 p.m Friday. An earlier version of this story had the wrong date.
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