Chris Knight - The Jealous KindBen Atkins - Mabelle

Chris Knight
The Jealous Kind

(Dualtone)

Ben Atkins
Mabelle

(Hightone)

First Appeared at The Music Box, December 2003, Volume 10, #12

Written by T.J. Simon

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It would be difficult to understate the influence that Steve Earle has had on modern country and roots-oriented rock music. The record stores are full of discs by artists trying to emulate his sound as well as his lyrical abilities, and although some do it well, most miss the mark. Two young country musicians who do a fine job with the Earle sound are Chris Knight and Ben Atkins. Both have recently released winning mainstream country albums that would make Earle proud.

Chris Knight is an outstanding contemporary country storyteller from Kentucky whose album The Jealous Kind is chock full of tales from rural American life. Carla Came Home is a foreboding ballad about a family’s vendetta after sis is beaten by her new husband. Broken Plow features stripped-down instrumentation accompanying the story of an Okie family moving to California after the loss of the family farm, and ten years ago, a great song like this would have earned Knight a spot on the Farm Aid circuit. The characters in his compositions look back on their hell-raising days with the benefit of hindsight, a touch of regret, and a glimmer of pride, and these mixed emotions are best displayed on Hello Old Man and Devil behind the Wheel. Former Georgia Satellites frontman Dan Baird helped to shape the album — both by producing it as well as by adding his own signature guitar style to its tracks.

Alabama native Ben Atkins is another Steve Earle sound-alike with an enjoyable new disc titled Mabelle, which features a more lavish production style than Knight utilized. I’m to Blame draws in the listener with a mournful country yodel surrounded by the weepy pedal steel of Lloyd Maines. While Knight holds a darker view of country life on The Jealous Kind, Atkins tends to romanticize rural route living on his own wistful tunes Another Place and The Same. Throughout Mabelle, the instrumentation is generally superb with the fast finger mandolin on Milo Johnson serving as a highlight courtesy of producer Kym Warner (Kasey Chambers). And just like Steve Earle, Atkins’ upbeat numbers are considerably stronger than his ballads. Nevertheless, there’s not a song on this disc worthy of an ounce of shame.

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The Jealous Kindstarstarstarstar

Mabellestarstarstarstar

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Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

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Copyright © 2003 The Music Box