Review. Glenn Wilken.

“It is one thing to be clever and oblique and another thing entirely to create such emotionally honest visceral songs that become easily anthemic to the everyman and never sound formulaic or contrived. He is a true storyteller. He has a unique, distinct sound that is a great canvas on which to paint his words. That he is not yet rich and famous is unfathomable.” Glen Wilken

Bill Knight: “ Back against the Wall”. Review by Glenn Wilken.

I still have its somewhere. In the flotsam of an Auckland attic lies a mangled C-60 cassette bootlegged from some folk festival I never attended. On it are two poorly recorded tracks played with such drive and intensity that for me provoked something of a musical epiphany and served as my introduction “skollierock” and the inimitable style and song writing prowess of one Bill Knight. Several stunning albums, live appearances and well over a decade later I am no less a fan.

Ranking Bill’s albums is not something I would presume to do, but Back Against The Wall certainly has much of his best material so far. From the upbeat to the more sparse and emotive offerings this album showcases the mood and the many styles of Bill’s musical delivery perfectly. Two minor gripes about this album are the inclusion of previously recorded material (Bobbejaan Blues off After The Rinderpest and the excellent Old Man off Bare Bones) and the inclusion of two songs penned by others (a nice enough rendition David Marks’ Master Jack and a marvellous job on Still Here by Hilton Vermaas). All of the above balance the album nicely, but at a petty level I’d have preferred more offerings from Bill the songwriter.

Melting Pot is not only a great song but an inspired choice for the opening track. Lilting infectious rhythms, sinuous sax from Roger Lucy and lyrics imbued with a sense homespun belonging this sets the tone for the album and serves as an easy point of access for the more challenging material to come.

Fugitive is plaintive and laced with the camaraderie of the isolated. “Fugitive, running from the world at large. You need a little camouflage – did you think I couldn’t tell”

Shoot the Janitor lifts the tempo with this infectious if sardonic piece on corporate crime. All permutations of butt covering and blame shifting are covered here. This would be funnier if it weren’t so true

Witness lurches back in staunchly honest introspection and also into rather buried history of reluctant combatants and proud parents dispatching conscripts. Of being “sworn to a dangerous cause and my eyes cannot contain what they have seen” Yearning threads of guilt and absolution blended with resignation and indelible damage. “What some of us did there; what some of us saw and none of us came back the same” Vintage Knight that will test the tensile strength of your scar tissue.

“They taught me to give when the others take, and how to bend but not to break…” My Father’s Hands demanded several replays on first listen. Here Bill pushes aside the brilliant verbal convolution and the vivid storyteller and instead delivers a perfectly crafted little hymn of a song. Sparse, warm and sweetly sad it is the perfect eulogy. Thanks for the lump in the throat and for the paternal inspiration. “My father hands were once so strong. They held me safe from wrath and wrong, and they held me tight where I belong….My father’s hands” One probably shouldn’t drive to this.

More of the Same isn’t! This is the weather forecast gang-raped by Revelations and Leviticus – broody, convoluted and filled with menace and apocalyptic foreboding. Put the headphones on and marvel as the layers peel back. This is what Bob Dylan was aiming for when he wrote “A Hard Rain”. Feel the goose bumps as you hear uncanny premonitions of the Tsunami, “It all started on an ordinary morning, just another day. It all happened without a warning – the waves washed the world away. Some were dancing across the quicksand; some were sucked in the mire. Some were saved and some they were damned, some were purified in fire. It’s the wild and windy weather; it’s the rise of a ruinous reign. Something has to be changing….or is it more of the same again?”

Back against the Wall, the title track closes out the album with a farewell return to lilting introspection with more that a touch of melancholia. “All those hills I had to climb, all those truths I failed to find. Lost my faith, missed a call; found myself once more back against the wall” Beautiful, sparse delivery that is a tad in the shadow of the hard to follow More of the Same.

Overall this album is a paradox. It is perhaps Bill’s most accessible offering to date (if that is indeed a musical virtue) and yet meaty and substantial enough to please those who like Bill at his demanding best. Back against the wall is also for the most part a good balance of a decent studio production that still nods to those of us who like Bill sounding a tad “Roff” and uncontrived. Despite the impressive variety and scope of these songs the album is imbued with that special hue and intensity that makes Bill’s music so instantly recognizable and enduring. Visceral, anthemic and addictive, Bill continues to evolve as the songwriter’s songwriter and his unique delivery and conflation of musical influences will keep this stacked right at the top of your play list. On a slagheap of recording industry cynicism and commercialism you have stumbled upon a gem. Treat yourself.