Artist: Andrew McKnight
Album: Something Worth Standing For
Genre: Americana, Folk, Acoustic
Sounds Like: John Denver, Appalachian bluegrass/blues
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Commercial Value: 9/10
Overall Talent Level: 9/10
Songwriting Skills: 9/10
Performance Skill: 9/10
Best Songs: These Shoes, Worried Man Blues, Surveillance, Cedars
Andrew McKnight is a purposeful songwriter and surehanded guitar player, and with Something Worth Standing For he has crafted an album that is acoustic-folk in general yet filled with interesting takes on that genre.
The opening “Times We’re Living In” is direct and mournful, a British Isles/Appalachia ballad for this century. This crisp wake-up call is followed by the up-tempo yet bittersweet “These Shoes,” an immigrant’s tale embellished with deft mandolin by Chance McCoy.
“Worried Man Blues” is a searing take on an old country-folk standard. McKnight’s vocal is wailing and passionate, and he fires off blistering electric guitar riffs around the anchor of McCoy’s banjo. The title cut is in the same vein but rocks harder – McCoy smokes on the fiddle and Jesse Shultzaberger lays down a heavy drum groove.
One of McKnight’s gifts is that he can deftly move from urgent blues to pretty folk – On “Hour of Darkness” McKnight’s acoustic slide guitar punctuates a tale of despair, and he follows with the wistful, lyrically vivid “Ansel Adams.”
The gospel-infused “Count Your Blessings” is powerful, and it is followed by the sweet instrumental “Wildwood Flower.” McKnight has assembled deft musicians around him, and his own guitar picking is clean and bright on this one.
McKnight is quite a wordsmith, stringing together offbeat lyrics on numbers such as the cool, jazzy “Surveillance” – “All quiet along the Potomac tonight but while that power city sleeps/suspicious silhouettes among the monuments trade secrets dark and deep.” Another quirky number I like here is his version of an old tune called “The Fox,” which I first heard on a kids’ album given to my daughter. It has a back-porch bluegrass feel, and the lyrics are just gruesome enough to teach a lesson about the food chain.
The a cappella soldiers' tribute “Wind Whispers Your Name” shimmers, and then the set ends with McKnight’s take on Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.” McKnight’s version is spooky – just slide guitar and voice – and personal, closing with “Guess I’ll just have to trust my soul.”
At times, Andrew McKnight reminds me of one of my favorite mellow troubadours, John Denver – for example on the pretty nostalgia piece “Cedars,” which has nice backing vocals from Pamela Temple. Yet McKnight can also evoke spooky backwoods Appalachian ghosts with his bluesier numbers. All of this adds up to one fine album of insightful music.