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The Exploration of Dangerous Places and Age of Steam: Strange Machines

Hello Ghouls and Boils,

I had the pleasure of seeing Jonah Knight perform at ConCarolinas this year and though I didn’t catch his whole show, it was one of the highlights of the convention for me. Not only is Jonah a nice guy, he is also a very talented musician and entertainer.

Jonah was kind enough to send us two CDs along for review. I desperately wanted to do the reviews myself, but a case of life got in the way. I asked Assistant Editor Floyd Brigdon if he wouldn’t mind doing the reviews and he happily agreed.

This coming week (tentatively on Thursday – don’t worry we’ll let you know beforehand) I will be conducting a live interview with Mr. Knight. But that’s not all! Jonah has given us 2 CDs to give away. So pay attention to this review and interview, because there will be a test. Mwahahaha!!

Now I will leave things in Floyd’s capable hands. Enjoy, my fiends!

Abstrusely,
Sarah L. Covert

I have been going to conventions (of various genres) for longer than I would care to admit and have been a fan of convention music programs and concerts for most of that time. When Sarah asked me to review two of Jonah Knight’s CDs to say that I was more than eager would be an understatement. I didn’t really know much about Knight, but just looking at the titles of the songs on the two CDs told me that, at least in terms of the kinds of things he liked to write about, he might be someone I would be very interested in. So I dove right in and was very intrigued by what I found.

The Exploration of Dangerous Places is a very solid CD that, by its very nature, should appeal to lovers of genre fiction and folk music. The songs cover a broad range of subjects that are designed to appeal to lovers of horror fiction. In these songs you will find ghosts, urban legends, apocalypses, mad scientists, and a hint or two of Lovecraftian horrors (which made me want to cackle madly until I realized how that would sound to the rest of the world). One of the things that I liked very much about this CD is that each song is like a mini short story. Often, musicians will attempt to appeal to a convention fan base by writing songs that have the trappings and vocabulary of the genre but that doesn’t really hold up under careful scrutiny. Well, that is certainly not the case here. The songs that Knight writes tell interesting stories and, like a good story, they often demand that you try to figure out what in the heck is going on….  which in my mind is a good thing. Telling the listener too much up front in a song is not only the formula of most pop music but it also leaves little else but the music to sustain their interest. But if you leave the listener room to fill in the details for himself, then the song becomes a story that is interactively created. Back that up with music that is also interesting and appropriate and you have yourself a winner.

Which leads us to the next question: what about the music on this CD?

Overall, the music is every bit as good as the lyrics and ideas in the songs. Though there are occasionally some other instruments added into the mix, most of the accompaniment on this CD is comprised of acoustic guitar and the arrangements that Knight manages to come up with are very well done and also very apropos of the songs themselves.  I can very easily imagine how these arrangements could be carried out in a live concert setting and, in a lot of ways, that simple but elegant approach lends this CD a charm that really sucked me in as I listened to it.

I like just about everything that I heard on Jonah Knight’s The Exploration of Dangerous Places. I didn’t care much for “King of Nebraska” but only because of its electronic/8-bit sounding music (which is not to say that it is a bad song because Knight…. Well, some secrets are best left preserved). My favorite track from the CD is a solid tie between “Sleepy Little Creepy Little Town”  (which I at first thought was going to be a filk of the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it be nice?”) and “Oh, the places you will go” (filled with Mythos goodness). Both are real toe-tappers sure to delight the geek and music lover in all of us.

Next on my plate was Age of Steam: Strange Machines, first released in December 2011. This CD keeps many/most of the creepy and supernatural elements from The Exploration of Dangerous Places but Knight describes this CD as “set in a supernatural steampunk world.” I was at first a little leery upon seeing the “steampunk” description. I like a lot of bands who bill themselves as steampunk but many times the music that results from an application of that label sounds too over-produced to my ears. Often it seems to me like there is so much going on in the song (noises and effects, for example) that the song gets overpowered. On his website, Knight says of steampunk music that it is “defined by lyrical content and showmanship rather than the musical styles” and sometimes I think that bands worry more about the showmanship part than on having good, solid songs to stand by. Now, reading a little bit about Knight and his ability to pull off memorable concerts, I know that he definitely has the showmanship angle firmly nailed but I am happy to report that in this CD he hasn’t forgotten the thing that makes his music stand out: well-crafted songs..

In Age of Steam: Strange Machines you will find songs about zombies, automatons, more mad scientists, flying contraptions, and much much more. The quality of the songwriting and arrangement on this CD was every bit as good as that on Explorations,   but there are a couple of things (besides the addition of the steampunk element) that make this CD slightly different. One of those things is the addition of a couple of very funny songs. NowExplorations had “Pirate song” and that was a very funny song but Knight really hits it out of the park with “Our future is in the sky” on this CD.

Another surprising difference is the inclusion of two very different songs on this CD. One, “Old folk roam”, is acknowledged by  Knight as being “adapted” from Stephen Foster’s “Swanee River”. He takes elements of the original’s melody and imagery and writes a very creepy song filled with Lovecraftian imagery. The other is a cover of John Fogerty’s “Bad Moon on the Rise” which Knight turns into a very different kind of song.

I think what most impressed me about this album is that  Knight  is able to create a CD that is, without a doubt, very definitely drawn from the steampunk tradition without sacrificing his voice and style. Finding a favorite track on this one was even harder than on Explorations but, if pressed, I would have to say that “Our future is in the sky” and “Time machine” win the photo-finish (and if you are familiar with Knight’s CDs, don’t overlook the unlabeled/unknown track; there is a pleasant surprise lurking there).

Final thoughts:
After listening to his music, I am very glad to have had an introduction to Jonah Knight. His music will definitely be most appreciated by folks who love the kinds of things we cover at SNS but the cool thing about these CDs is that I firmly believe that this music could hold its own with just about any listening audience who was open to good folk music. Overall, I enjoyed both of these CDs immensely and look forward to hearing more of Knight’s music in the future.

I give both of these CDs a very enthusiastic 4.5 tentacles

Floyd Brigdon, Assistant Editor/Reviewer/Columnist

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