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Record Review 

The title doesn't lie: Country/rock enigma Chris Knight is a pretty good guy -- and he's a more-than-pretty-good storyteller. I wish I could say the same for this disappointing follow-up to his justly praised self-titled 1998 debut.

A Pretty Good Guy would seem to have everything going for it: a crack backup band with all the right instrumentation (fiddle, banjo, lap steel, B-3, accordion), production by ex-Georgia Satellite Dan Baird that's as focused as a Kentucky native's gritty red dirt narratives; and a new label that appreciates Knight's mainstream incompatibility. The album has everything, it seems, but memorable songs.

The problem isn't in the lyrics, which are as vivid as ever, sometimes tearing at the gut like buckshot. "Becky's Bible" documents a criminal's hopeless scramble away from an accountability he knows is inevitable ("No need to be wishing/That I'll ever get to fish the Green River again."). "Oil Patch Town" waxes vividly nostalgic for the kind of Friday-night trouble that can only be had as a teenager.

More often than not, though, the music's mid-tempo sameness takes the sting out of the words. Where the buff, twangy rock of Chris Knight was relentlessly efficient along the lines of Steve Earle's Guitar Town debut, A Pretty Good Guy plods along like middling John Mellencamp -- albeit with serious John Prine aspirations. Still, the lyric sheet oughta be enough to sustain you through Knight's sophomore slump.

Chris Knight performs Sun., Sept. 30, at Smith's Olde Bar.

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