Heather Knox’s Eldorado 

By Ken Shimamoto 


When last heard from, rockin’ country gal Heather Knox had just fought her way out of open-mic oblivion, quit her day job, recorded and released a self-titled debut disc on her own dime. Now it’s four years and change later and she’s back with a sophomore CD, Eldorado, that’s a quantum leap in self-assurance and professionalism over its predecessor. 

Heather kicks down the door with a triptych of radio-friendly country rockers. “Back Again” is a taut, tense, live wire of a song, propelled by multi-instrumental marvel Aaron Kelley’s Telecaster double- and triple-stops. (Last time out, Knox’s band included jazzbo Aden Bubeck, whose scissorhead Mohawk has since graced numerous national magazines and TV shows where his current employer, Miranda Lambert, has been featured.) “Eldorado,” one of two songs with lyrics co-written by Heather’s longtime companion Thu-Ha Nguyen, is a joyfully careening road saga that establishes leavin’ – to escape, discovery, adventure -- as one of the recurring themes of this batch of songs. “The Drinking Song” takes an original approach to a time-honored C&W theme: “I’m thinkin’ about drinkin’ / Myself to the middle of an afternoon / I’ll stop it, I’ll cut back / Way down to the bottom of the bottle real soon.” Another candidate for country airplay is “Sugar Pop,” a sprightly banjo-driven rocker. 

Her real forte, however, is the slow ones: powerful, dramatic hymns of affirmation like “Broken” or declarations of regret like “Wasted” provide perfect vehicles for Knox’s soaring, aching voice. The best moments here are the penultimate track, “Gone,” and the untitled bonus track that follows “Where You Place the Blame” -- a throwaway song about a bad gig in Abilene (where I once saw Doug Sahm in a strip joint because it was the only room in town with a stage and a P.A. system) – where Kelley creates Daniel Lanois-like atmospheric washes of sound to frame Knox’s almost-painfully-intimate confessional songcraft. 

My personal fave is probably the album’s least “country” song -- realizing that what passes for country music today has more to do with ‘70s rock than it does with the Carter Family and Hank Williams. “Here comes that surge up through my veins / I think I missed my turn, lesson learned” indeed.