Mark Knopfler – Privateering (2012)
There are some songwriters that have such a signature sound you know exactly who it is within three seconds of listening. Mark Knopfler is one such musician. It’s not even just for those clickety slick licks anymore either; it’s the full, panoramic soundscape that blends Folk with Trad with Rock with Country Blues – it totally belongs to him.
Knopfler is also a songwriting machine. His output has been consistent post-Dire Straits, and all of it a remarkable standard. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, so they say. And in a similar vein to AC/DC (although wildly different, of course) Knopfler never strays very far from home base. And why should he? The formula is there, and the end product unquestionably polished. Privateering, his 2012 twenty-track double solo album, maintains his incredibly high standards and features some absolute Knopfler gems.
Knopfler has a knack of writing new tunes that sound like standards. The title track Privateering is one such number that could well have been written around a campfire one-hundred years ago. After The Beanstalk sounds like something Robert Johnson could have composed, and Bluebird has something eminently Peter Green about it. The beauty of it all is that Knopfler lends sounds from his peers, and like a great LP that he just can’t bring himself to return, keeps it for his own. A bit naughty, but somehow brilliant.
The former Dire Straits and Notting Hillbillies frontman also has a knack of rousing gentle folk-rock soundscapes and moody portraits painted by acoustic guitars, penny whistles, delicate electric guitar blues licks, melancholy fiddle and captivating accordion. Red Bud Tree is delightful, as is the outstanding, penetrating Go, Love. There is a tenderness in Miss You Blues that emits a deep-rooted satisfaction of his lot from Knopfler. It’s just about as listenable as a record could be.
The record is ably supported by some stellar session musicians, most notably former Dire Straits keys player and master arranger, Guy Fletcher. Fiddle and cittern player, John McCusker, is another notable name, along with bassist Glenn Worf, Michael McGoldrick on whistles and pipes, and Paul Franklin on pedal steel. The blend is primarily Folky, but this is a band that does much, much more. Seattle is a highlight, with its majestic chord changes and clement longing. The golden nugget on the album for me, however, is Kingdom Of Gold. At all times rousing, it is lyrically stunning and builds like a fine sunrise, culminating with an enchanting backing choir and something profoundly medieval. Knopfler at his very best.
There are a few throwaways in amongst the twenty. Corned Beef City and Gator Blood didn’t do much for me but carry my legs to the kettle for a brief break, but even those intervals are timed well (ha!). Today Is Ok is more of a filler too, though not without its quirks. All in all, a few weaker moments on a twenty-track album is to be expected. They are very much carried by the deep and meaningful quality radiating from the rest.
There is a misery and melancholy that somehow surrounds Knopfler these days, though it only seems to aid the music. I wouldn’t be rushing out for a pint with the man, but I’d certainly be rushing to the record shop every time there’s a new album announcement.
He’d probably have lemonade anyway.
Top track trio:
Kingdom Of Gold