"The Modern Sounds of the Knitters"
The Knitters may well be the only act in history to be the subject of a tribute CD after releasing just one album. That album, "Poor Little Critter on the Road," was released in 1985; the tribute album, "Poor Little Knitter on the Road" featuring Whiskeytown, Robbie Fulks and the Old 97s, was released in 1999; the second Knitters album, "The Modern Sounds of the Knitters," has just been issued. At this rate of production, we can expect another tribute album in 2019 and a third Knitters album in 2025.
That's because the Knitters (a deliciously bad pun on the Weavers) are a side project for John Doe, Exene Cervenka and D.J. Bonebrake of X and Dave Alvin of the Blasters. It's a chance to scratch their itch for traditional country music in semi-acoustic arrangements. Doe and Cervenka handle all the vocals, while Alvin concentrates on playing electric guitar behind Doe's acoustic guitar and Jonny Ray Bartel's string bass. Because a Knitters album constitutes a vacation from their regular careers, the results have a loose playfulness that's infectious.
Three X songs ("In This House That I Call Home," "Burning House of Love" and "Skin Deep Town") and one Alvin composition ("Dry River") are reimagined as they might have been done by country legend Johnny Horton in 1958. The Knitters also do "Long Chain On" by Horton's favorite songwriter, Jimmie Driftwood, as well as the bluegrass standards "Rank Stranger" and "Give Me Flowers While I'm Living." The disc climaxes by proving that Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" would have been a perfect song for X in their prime.
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Friday at the Birchmere and Sunday at the Rams Head Live in Baltimore.