Career In Brief: Mark Knopfler


CAREER IN BRIEF: MARK KNOPFLER

Mark Knopfler is the wildly accomplished guitar afficionado who fronted the pub-prog stadium act Dire Straits. His “sound” is easily distinguishable from that of other guitarists because of his finger-picking style, a sort of languid-staccato if you will. While the artistic output of the Dire Straits years was more focused on his fabulous guitar chops, Knopfler’s solo work has been more along the lines of singer-songwriter work, although his guitar-playing still figures prominently.

In my opinion, Knopfler is the epitome of how a rock and roll artist should mature, probably oweing something to the fact that he is a prodigious talent. Although he’s not normally put on the same pedestal as the great guitar players of rock and roll, such as Hendrix, Clapton, Van Halen, or Page, there is no doubt that Knopfler is in the same categories as these guitar heroes. The difference, I would say, is in Knopfler’s influences. Traditionally, the guitar gods have been rooted in the blues, but Knopfler’s style owes more to jazz (Django Reinhart) and Opryland country (Chet Atkins) influences.

Although his career as a solo artist proper really came post-Dire Straits, he did plenty of notable soundtrack work in the 80’s and early 90’s. Those interested in his scores should check out Local Hero and, of course, his iconic work for Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride. Otherwise, I’m going to jump right into his solo records, one of the most under-celebrated album catalogs of the last twenty years.

One other note: while some artists may write sad songs that don’t sound so sad and happy songs that sound the same as the sad ones, Knopfler, though under-stated, wears his songwriting soul masterfully on his sleeve. His music is devoid of irony, unless he intends to convey it. In our age of hyper-hipsterism, it’s rewarding to find an artist who doesn’t need to be hip to win our hearts.

MAJOR RELEASES:

Golden Heart [1996] (A): Come on, isn’t this really just the latest Dire Straits album? Knopfler downplays the prog grandiosity and instead takes aim at rootsy chamber folk. For a guy who spent the 80’s blowing out stadiums around the world, he proves himself adept at turning down the volume and turning up the celtic and cajun influences. It’s a true masterpiece. (R:  “I’m The Fool”, “Done With Bonaparte”)

Sailing to Philadelphia [2000] (B)
: Knopfler always had a knack for “storytelling” via song, but the way his lyrics unfold before you like a film on “What It Is”, you’ll feel like you are right there on Charlotte Street. A sprawling meditation on America’s wide open spaces, it features many wonderful moments, but ultimately loses itself somewhere around the “Sands of Nevada.” Features a great duet with Van Morrison on “The Last Laugh.”  (R: “What It Is”, “Silvertown Blues”)
The Ragpicker’s Dream [2002] (A+): As homey and comforting a record as you will ever find anywhere, what makes The Ragpicker’s Dream is Knopfler’s ability to seamlessly shift from a peppy novelty like “Devil Baby” to a sadly mortal meditation like “A Place We Used To Live” without skipping a beat. The title track may be the best Christmas carol to emerge from the British Isles since “Fairytale of NYC.” One of my all-time favorite records. (R: “Why Aye Man”, “The Ragpicker’s Dream”)

Shangri-La [2004] (A): Fourteen tracks about all the ways we try to find heaven on earth, lead single “Boom Like That” is the best satirical piece Knopfler has written since “Money For Nothing.” It’s also highly informative and educational. Elsewhere, “All That Matters” gets all sweet on us, and “Back To Tupelo” is some beautiful Elvis-perspective blues.
(R: “Back to Tupelo”, “Donegan’s Gone”)

All The Roadrunning [2006] (A): This isn’t properly a Mark Knopfler record, since he shares the spotlight with Emmylou Harris, but in all reality, he wrote 10 of the 12 songs, and it all sounds more like his work than hers. They go together well, and this is a great travelling record. Really, truly wonderful. (R: “Right Now”, “Rollin’ On”)


Kill To Get Crimson [2007] (A-)
: At this point in his career, MK isn’t really turning over any new stones, but when you know what you do better than anyone else in the world, why do anything else? At this point, Knopfler demonstrates his greatness in the sheer fact that he can churn out 12 tracks of such astounding quality every 2 years at the age of 58. Shouldn’t somebody name this guy the godfather of something??? (R: “Heart Full Of Holes”, “Secondary Waltz”)

Get Lucky [2009] (B+): Well, it is all starting to run together a little bit at this point, but for the most part, I stand by what I said about Kill To Get Crimson and apply it to this one. Knopfler has nothing left to prove – Lord knows he doesn’t need money. Knopfler is the type of guy who can just sit back and be artistic with his life for the rest of us. And tracks like “Cleaning My Gun” prove that he still has a few powerful turns of phrase left in him. (R: “Border Reiver”, “Cleaning My Gun”)

OTHER KEY TRACKS:

“Long Highway”
“Let’s See You”

What do love about Mark Knopfler?

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One Response to Career In Brief: Mark Knopfler

  1. Pingback: Initial Reactions (2012): Beach Boys, Best Coast, Bap Kennedy « Sweet Georgia Breezes

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