Sometimes, America swallows dreams whole. Lost in the roiling vat of U.S. history, perfectly good — maybe even fabulous — artifacts get buried. Who knows what’s been neglected under piles of dust and old venetian blinds in suburban garages, chucked out of car windows into passing wheat fields, or bent out of shape in motorcycle accidents? But it’s America; there are miracles lurking in our detritus. Here’s one that got found: Crossroads by Kenny Knight. Stumbled upon in a random record store bin by Colorado collector Michael Klausman, the record is enough of a phenomenon to get a reissue through North Carolina’s finest purveyors of folk and country rarities, Paradise Of Bachelors.
So suspend time while we dig back. It’s 1980. The whole country is about to tip into a bloated, schmaltzy mess of power chords and hair spray. But not yet. In a refurbished carriage house in Denver, Colorado, Kenny Knight and his cousin Sylvia are whittling away at the songs Knight wrote during the ’70s while stationed at Camp Pendleton with the Marine Corps. Pinning his lifelong musical ambitions on this rash of studio sessions, Kenny worked 13-hour days as an auto-body painter and recorded Crossroads during nights in Sylvia’s makeshift studio.
They enlisted flute players or steel guitarists when the need arose. One song needed a banjo, so Knight bought a banjo and a book, taught himself to play it. Knight shopped songs around L.A. at several different points, running on empty through the Sunset Strip until he finally gave up. He told Klausman that during the ’90s he chucked the remaining copies of Crossroads into a dumpster somewhere. After Klausman discovered that there was absolutely nothing about Knight online — no information and no songs — he tracked the man down himself.
Now we have Knight’s music, resurfaced like some surreal country flotsam. And there he is, hanging off a train like he’s a sailor checking the rigging on a land-locked journey. There’s a hint of the sidewinding seventies on Crossroads, some Laurel Canyon gentleness, and bits of backwoods stubbornness, but the crown jewel on this album is the swaggering, bitterly terrified jam called “Whiskey.” It rumbles and bops with a friendly, warm freight train feel, before descending into the kind of liquor-induced existential paranoia that the Irish knowingly dub “The Fear.” The song is a true bait-and-switch; a Cheshire cat bass line and scratchy, playful guitar rattle around Knight’s anxious story-telling. One of the purposes of country music is to turn a prevalent horror like driving drunk, or death itself, into a manageable matter. On “Whiskey,” Knight cloaks mortality in wink-and-a-grin insouciance. It could be Springsteen, it could be Elvis, it could be Waylon. But it’s not. It’s Kenny Knight, finally being heard. Listen below.
Crossroads is out 5/12 via Paradise Of Bachelors.