Artist: Mark Knopfler
About: 15 songs; 1 hour and 15 minutes
Choice: DJR blogging
Appropriately, the liner notes of Mark Knopfler’s new album, Tracker, contains a mini-essay by the novelist, Richard Ford. Ford is known for the beauty of the language of his stories, and the precision of his words. In the essay, he recounts that he pridefully told Knopfler about an offer he had to co-write some songs with a well-known musician. He asked Knopfler if he had any advice. Knopfler tells him to stick to his novel writing. The ability to pare down a story to a few verses and choruses was not, he advised, as easy as it may seem.
It appears to come abundantly easy to the seasoned song-writer who for many years headed the band, Dire Straits. Over a long one hour and 15 minutes, Knopfler tell fifteen stories. There are poets and boxers and truckers and lovers. This is an album full of the workers and oftentimes what the toll of that work bequeaths. None of this album is Sultans of Swing or Money for Nothing. This is more Mark Knopfler as Van Morrison or any other of the Celtic singers who bring a cultural sound to their craft that is unmistakable.
The album’s opening track is a kick. It starts with the familiar Brubeck Take Five line and then Celtic fiddles and then whistles come in. It works brilliantly. And here comes Knopfler’s familiar voice, and you can picture yourself swaying and singing along to this in an pub as you lift your mug of Guinness. “Oh, laughs and jokes and drinks and smokes and no light on the stairs. We were so young, so young, and always broke, not that we ever cared.” He nails it on that one.
The rest is a mixed bag for me. I think part of it is its length. I like to get the album as a whole in, but I don’t really have over an hour to spend listening to a single album (unless of course we have had a dinner with guests and multiple forms of beverage in multiple types of glassware are consumed. Then, my dishwashing/music listening time can certainly accommodate such a task). Many of the songs sounded so similar to me, and when they both sound similar and there are multiple, that can get a little tedious. I can’t say anything bad about his musicianship (so wonderful still is his guitar work), or his singing and harmonizing which are really great too. I just would have liked a shorter album with the strongest of these songs.
One of those for me was one of the album’s simplest. Beryl is a song tribute to the celebrated British writer, Beryl Bainbridge, who only received a Booker Prize for literature after she was dead. The sum of the song is:
Beryl was on another level / when she won a Booker medal / She was dead in her grave / after all that she gave
Beryl, everytime they overlook her / When they gave her a Booker / she was dead in her grave / after all that she gave
Beryl, the tobacco overtook her / When they gave her a Booker / she was dead in her grave / after all that she gave
It’s all too late now
This is one of the songs on the album that lets Knopfler’s familiar Dire Straits guitar work shines.
Dan got much more out of this than I did, and I can possibly attribute it to the fact that I did not spend as much time with it. He finds a soul here that the early Dire Straights certainly did not have. He writes that what he finds is “warm, generous and comfortable.” I do not disagree with that. I am glad that Dan brought this one into my library, and if only for that first song, I would recommend it for a listen.
Next up: Ivy Tripp by Waxahatchee