A1. “Does He Hide” 3.22
A2. “One Down” 3.32
A3. “All My Memories” 3.24
A4. “Carry Me Down” 3.32
A5. “Jean” 4.48
B1. “To Be Free” 5.46
B2. “Baby’s Back” 2.05
B3. “You Can Tell Me I’m Wrong” 4.11
B4. “Whiskey” 3.25
B5. “America” 3.04
The first-ever reissue of the private-press country-rock rarity by Colorado auto body painter, Marine, and garage band lifer Kenny Knight—he played in the original ’60s Black Flag—Crossroads recalls a homebrew American Beauty-era Grateful Dead in its world-weary, low-key mood and indelible songwriting. Faded, anxious, melancholy, and beautifully woozy, this out-of-time document belies its 1980 release date. Produced in cooperation with Numero Group, it features liner notes by writer and collector Michael Klausman and Kenny himself.
“I’ve been shook up, stood up, and refused.
I’ve been put down, shoved round, and confused.
It won’t be long; I’m holding on.”
I met up with Kenny Knight in the parking lot of a Guitar Center at the southern end of Denver a couple years back. He was there to drop off a guitar that needed to be repaired, and I took that as a sign that he was still involved with music. He did confirm that was the case, for which I was glad. Despite the intervening decades since Kenny had released his sole LP, it was easy to recognize him as he stepped out of his pickup truck; although his hair was shorter, he still retained the compact frame and thoughtful gaze you see on the cover of Crossroads. He struck me as being somewhat shy and diffident, a person who values his privacy and probably wary about some random guy being interested in the music he’d made long ago.
About a year and half before our meeting, I came across Kenny’s record sitting in the bins at a shop in Denver, and it just had that look: sepia tones, a rugged guy hanging off a train, all original songs, a pedal steel player in the credits. Promising stuff, the only thing I was unsure about was its 1980 release. Yet from the first couple of notes I was totally elated, for these were beautifully well-crafted songs, timeless, really, and impossible to date if it hadn’t been for the copyright on the back of the LP cover. It turned out there was nary a mention to be found on Google of this album, and none of my collector friends had ever seen it. Now, I realize there’s nothing more obnoxious than reading liner notes which paint some self-aggrandizing portrait of the heroic record-digger, and that’s certainly not what I’m trying to do here. The fact of the matter is this LP and its songs, which are simply undeniable; if I hadn’t picked up Crossroads and passed it around, it would only have been a matter of time before someone else did.
There’s a very singular combination of world-weariness and hope running throughout Crossroads, a still timely grappling with the realities of getting by in this country. You can hear it most clearly in “America,” which is at turns a paean to this nation, as well a plea to it: “don’t lock me out.” This juggling of sophisticated dualities extends even to his love songs, as on “One Down” (possibly the album’s finest track, and one which could sit comfortably next to American Beauty’s best), where he asks, “how much can one heart take?” while still acknowledging that he’ll “stay in love forever more.”
As so often is the case, life got in the way of Kenny’s music, and even after crafting such a perfect LP, his hopes and dreams would remain unrealized, with family obligations and service to his country ultimately having to take precedence. As we talked in that Guitar Center parking lot, I discovered a quietly humble man, proud of the album he’d made and seemingly appreciative that I’d expressed interest, that the folks for whom I’d been playing it also thought it was great. It was sadly obvious, though, that he didn’t think Crossroads had received the reception he felt it had deserved; he told me rather regretfully that he had tossed all the leftover copies of the pressing into a dumpster at some point during the 1990s. And while he didn’t expressly say it, I got the sense that he had no other choice but to throw them out, as if he just couldn’t face the album’s commercial failure any longer. Some records take a while to find their audience, however, and Crossroads is one of them; it’s just a matter of holding on.
- First-ever reissue of the private-press country-rock rarity by Colorado mechanic, Marine, and garage band lifer Kenny Knight
- RIYL The Grateful Dead, The Youngbloods, Gram Parsons, Gene Clark, Lawrence Hammond, F.J. McMahon, pedal steel guitars, and Leslie speakers
- Available on 150g virgin vinyl as an LP, with heavy-duty reverse board matte jacket, and liner notes by Kenny Knight and writer and collector Michael Klausman , as well as on gatefold CD and digital formats
- Vinyl edition includes digital download coupon
The only album Kenny Knight ever released is about American Sadness: the especially poignant, timid melancholy of a people who are raised up to believe their dreams are destined to come true, the cold desolation that settles in when they don’t. These are cowboy lullabies with their outlaw instincts replaced by middle class ennui, and they are phenomenal. Each song on Crossroads sounds like it could spawn its own album, which is bound to happen when a songwriter of this generous, prolific nature is confined to releasing only one record. Crossroads is the railroad blues as told by someone who couldn’t make it out of Denver, and its reissue by Paradise of Bachelors doesn’t just feel timely, it feels necessary. Whether Knight knew it or not, his album title was a prophetic description of American history — the nation was certainly at a crossroads.
– Caitlin White, Stereogum
An understated Colorado country rock gem, unknown and unloved since its release 35 years ago. It’s bound to get the audience it deserves this May, however, thanks to a reissue from the Paradise of Bachelors label. Blending the dusty acoustic rambles of the Dead circa 1970, the world weary ache of White Light-era Gene Clark and Knight’s own brand of faded Americana, the ten tracks here offer up a shot of pure, private press pleasure. While the pedal steel and warm backing vocals are as lovely as a Rocky Mountain sunrise, there’s an intensity and melancholy seared into every moment here.
– Tyler Wilcox, Aquarium Drunkard
Kenny and his mostly female backing group straddle the fence between seasoned focus and jagged tranquility as finely as Grateful Dead protégés New Riders of the Purple Sage on their first few releases. Pedal steel player Sandy Dodge weaves, rises, and shines as strikingly as when Jerry Garcia sat down in front of the same instrument for the excellent first New Riders album. Just squint your eyes to the sun and hoist a salute in the direction of Paradise of Bachelors for unearthing another rugged piece of Americana of a very peculiar vintage.
– Tony Rettman, The Wire
A must-listen. Crossroads sounds alternately like a classic from the early ’70s Laurel Canyon scene and like a contemporary record (think the Men’s recent work, minus the noise). Wall-to-wall beauty… a treasure.
– Maura McAndrew, Coke Machine Glow
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 liquour-induced existential paranoia that the Irish knowingly dub “The Fear.” Between a Cheshire cat bass line and scratchy, playful guitar that rattles 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.
– Caitlin White, Stereogum
The kind of album that deep diggers are already sweating bullets over, a dusty, bedraggled example of prime-cut rural rock. Knight’s songwriting talent is undeniable; “Jean,” with its solemn acoustic strumming bolstered by haunting Leslie cabinet electric leads, immediately enters the canon of Ultimate Folk Downers, dragging its feet with whatever resolve it has left, while “Whiskey” becomes an instant, favored mellow groover. I can’t stress how satisfying it is to discover a record like Crossroads, which fulfills the promise of the search some of us go through to find great examples of mostly-unheard music.
– Doug Mosurock, Other Music
An album full of songs evocative of all things wonderful about the cross-pollinating music of the 70’s. Great songwriting abounds on this LP. Crossroads is not only a welcomed addition to the collection of anyone who digs on 70’s singer songwriter fare but also for those looking to dip their toes into the more curious world of private press and loner folk musics. Thankfully the work of Kenny Knight and many others like him are just now being unearthed and appreciated for the wonderfully personal work they have left behind in thrift stores and record shops across America.
– Randy Reynolds, The Big Takeover
With a gentle means of wrapping his vocal around a lyric, Knight maintains an ace storyteller’s perspective on each song of his that he handles on the record, deftly displaying a myriad of emotions within a singular, vibrant verse. As a previously undervalued representative of the music of an era gone by, Knight’s Crossroads is amongst the best.
The terse taking-stock anthem “Whiskey” sounds like a distillation of everything good about the Grateful Dead c. 1972. Anyone who digs recent Woods, or likes digging into the post-psychedelic Grateful Dead catalog, could find plenty to like here.
– Bill Meyer, Dusted
It’s a classic.
– Chris Robinson, The Black Crowes
The album possesses unfussy warmth that is quiet and easygoing, and divulges with each spin heartstring hooks and compositional depth. Songs such Carry Me Down and America have so much singalong potential that it’s hard to understand how their appeal was missed the first time around.
– Sydney Morning Herald
Your new favorite old record.
– Doom and Gloom from the Tomb
A long-forgotten masterpiece. Sounds unbelievably fresh.