- 12 Aug 19
To celebrate the legendary ex-Dire Straits frontman's 70th, we're revisiting our original reviews of some of his classic solo albums, including Sailing To Philadelphia, Get Lucky and Tracker.
Sailing To Philadelphia - Colm O'Hare, Hot Press (2000)
Not quite what the world needs right now you might be forgiven for thinking – yet another instalment from the erstwhile Sultan of Swing. But to be fair to Mr Knopfler he has hardly been ingratiating himself into our lives since the demise of the colossus that was Dire Straits over eight years ago. Movie soundtracks aside, this (astonishingly) is only Knopfler’s second solo album.
His last outing, 1996’s Golden Heart had a few worthy moments, the gorgeous ballad ‘Darling Pretty’ and his duet with Vince Gill on ‘Are We In Trouble Now’ among them. Sailing To Philadelphia, which could have been entitled The American Album, is even better. The title track, an unlikely duet with James Taylor, tells the story of a pair of Geordie lads heading for America “to draw the line, the Mason Dixon Line”. A beautifully cinematic old style emigration ballad, it sets the tone for much of what follows.
Now sounding even more like Bob Dylan than he did when Dire Straits ruled the world’s arenas, Knopfler has clearly been listening closely to quite a few American records of late. You could easily imagine Steve Earle belting out ‘Who’s Your Baby Now’, a catchy mid-paced country rocker, while the six-minute Springsteenesque ‘Silvertown Blues’ is lyrically as well as spiritually close to the Boss’ ‘Lucky Town’.
More mainstream in approach, ‘The Last Laugh’, a duet with Van Morrison, is one of the better performances by either artist in years.
The only gripe is that many of these tracks – ‘Speedway At Nazareth’ being a perfect example – are simply too long. But taken in small doses this is a classy piece of work.
Get Lucky - Colm O'Hare, Hot Press (2009)
Though the former-Dire Straits axemeister has his detractors, he’s been turning out a succession of quietly impressive solo albums in recent years. His latest is one of the best – and while there are no real surprises there’s lots and lots to like on the excellent Get Lucky: country and swing rhythms, Celtic-folk textures and loads of top-class playing.
Throughout, the results are beautifully crafted – from the poignant lilt of ‘Border Reiver’ to the barrelhouse blues of ‘You Can’t Beat The House’ and on to the crooner-like cinematic strains of ‘Monteleone’. Knopfler’s Dylanesque vocals and distinctive finger-picking guitar styles are all present and correct. So, if you liked his return to form Sailing To Philadelphia, you’ll love this one.
Tracker - Colm O'Hare, Hot Press (2015)
It’s easy to forget Mark Knopfler has been a solo artist for a lot longer than his tenure heading Dire Straits, who he took from late ’70s pub rock anonymity to global domination in just a few short years. Since opting out of rock superstardom, he’s concentrated on whatever projects take his fancy, from movie soundtracks to producing and playing on sessions for Dylan and Bryan Ferry (not to mention collaborations with from Chet Atkins and Emmylou Harris). His last few albums were more or less in a similar style that started with 2000’s Sailing To Philadelphia where he perfected a kind of laid-back North West England blues, often with a seafaring or early industrial theme. With long-time collaborator Guy Fletcher on keyboards, his eighth solo album continues in that vein.
Opening track ‘Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes’ starts out in jazzy mode, almost like Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take 5’, with a melody not a million miles from ‘Philadelphia’ and a lyric that traces Knopfler’s arrival in London to form a band when “we were young, we were broke.”
A sailor’s life is explored on the gently shuffling ‘River Towns’, where “these chicks will take your money, shake a young man down”. Meanwhile Dire Straits fans will recognize the fast finger-picking on the upbeat and pacey ‘Beryl’, a tribute to author Beryl Bainbridge, who wrote about the working class life so prevalent in Knopfler’s work. Elsewhere the sublime ‘Long Cool Girl’ faintly recalls ‘Romeo & Juliet’ while the cinematic textures of ‘Lights of Taormina’ sound like something from the soundtrack of Paris, Texas with hints of Nebraska-era Springsteen and a melody gleaned from ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’.
The album’s closer, a country-folk-ish ballad ‘Wherever I Go’, features a lovely duet with Ruth Moody of Canadian roots outfit The Wailin’ Jennies (who Knopfler spotted singing on TV show Transatlantic Sessions). A fitting ending to one of his most satisfying collections to date.