Mark Knopfler had me from the first time I heard Dire Straits with the opening bars of 'Sultans of Swings' from their 1978 eponymously titled debut album. It has been thirty-seven years and eight albums I have been seduced by this man's virtoso song writing and his unmistakable guitar work. 'Tracker', his latest album, was released last evening. It formed the soundtrack to the last two hours of my work shift last night. With this play through I have listened to the album three complete times since it was released a little more than 15 hours. Seduced is the word for my experience of being invited to a feast for the ears and soul that a new Knopfler is and has been for nearly four decades.
The adage of never having another chance to make a first impression holds true for albums as well as people or, for that matter, books. The first track of 'Tracker' is 'Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smokes' starts out with a cool jazz intro that put me in mind of the first few bars of 'Take Five' by Dave Brubeck and then suddenly morphs into Irish roots music. One of the joys of Knopfler, at least for me as a middle aged listener, are the various trips down memory lane he takes the listener. The chorus of this song reminds me of a group of women I lived with back in the early 1990s. We all shared a Victorian house on the edge of the Fillmore and the lower Haight-Ashbury and we were all broke as a joke. We all shared, laughs, jokes, drinks, smokes (and pot when we had it) aplenty during that time.
About 80% of the way of the through the album Knopfler shows one of this gifts and what he does truly is a gift. On the eleventh track, a haunting and mournful duet with Ruth Moody titled 'Wherever I Go', Knopfler takes us into a bar about 1:35 in the morning when its just the barflies and the staff. From the first time he did this to me on 'Your Latest Trick' from the 1984 album Brothers in Arms to now I have been amazed at his ability to paint a musical tableau. If anyone could put that painting 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams' to music, Knopfler would be it. If you close your eyes, you can almost feel the cool early morning air as it rushes in each time someone opens the door and you can damn near taste the cigarette smoke in the air and smell the whiskey on the breath of the drunk two stools over. No one is able to do that with instrumentation like Knopfler.
This is not a rock album although officially Knopfler is considered a rock musician. It is not a country album although his North Umberland Celtic roots are surely on display. It is a wonderful, beautiful, moody album. the only songs that truly move are 'Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smoke' and Beryl and of those two only Beryl really swings and it is a subdued swinging. It is an album well worth listening to. Just don't expect a Dire Straits album. Knopfler doesn't go backward, even if he sometimes takes a look back.