I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Exploration of Dangerous Places

The Exploration of Dangerous Places
by Jonah Knight

At Capclave a few weeks ago, I attended a late night ghost story gathering. A few people told stories, some read, but one guy pulled out a guitar and sang about a haunted house. This was Jonah Knight, performing “Empty House,” and instantly I knew I had to hear more from him. “Empty House” fit right into my typical daily playlist of songs by the Mountain Goats, the Decemberists, and the Pogues. The chorus from “Empty House” is:

But this empty house isn’t empty after all
Late at night you can hear things in the walls
Your shallow grave isn’t deep enough at all
To keep your ghost under ground.

“Empty House” turned out to be from Knight’s new album, The Exploration of Dangerous Places. Now that I’ve listened to it a dozen times or so, I can say that it wasn’t pure chance that I first heard Knight at a science fiction convention. His website describes his music as “paranormal modern folk,” which is pretty much on target. Speculative themes run through many of the songs, from interplanetary travel and terraforming on “The Places You Will Go” to cloning an army of duplicates on “King of Nebraska.” I detect traces of Ray Bradbury and HP Lovecraft within the lyrics, such as in “Sleepy Little Creepy Little Town” with the verse:

There’s a nameless faceless thing crawling down from out of the hills
There’s a prehistoric prophecy on the verge of being fulfilled
Everybody in the village likes to gather at the general store
Talk about the screams coming from the mansion
and compare our mysterious open sores

Like Ray Bradbury, Knight is diverse, mixing introspective songs of ghosts and nameless evils with more amusing fare. “Pirate Song” is a jaunty sea shanty, and “King of Nebraska” provokes uncomfortable laughs with its rather disturbing tale of a man who’s cloning an army of followers, especially when we arrive at the heart of the narrator’s motives:

I keep your photograph buried in a book
I have a reference when I forget how you look
I down loaded more DNA
My lawyer friend says it's okay
There’s no expectation of privacy online
I rented a place and bought the stuff
Two more weeks should be enough
to finish off another you
that does whatever I tell it to

Musically, Knight fits in the singer songwriter mold, with guitar playing reminiscent of Nick Drake. Vocally, I’m reminded more of Atom and His Package mixed with early Mountain Goats. Knight’s voice probably wouldn’t get him through an audition for American Idol, but there’s a reason I don’t watch American Idol. What Knight’s voice lacks in range it makes up for in honesty and urgency. Ultimately, you understand from this album that the dangerous place that Knight has been exploring is his own soul, and the songs succeed because he’s had the courage to report back on the monsters he found there.

The album should be released any day now; visit Jonah’s website at www.jonahofthesea.com for when and where you can buy it.

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