Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tracker, by Mark Knopfler (album of the week)

Mark Knopfler’s new album, Tracker, delivers exactly what I expected - beautiful, nuanced, thoughtful rock that raises my spirits if not my pulse or my eyebrows.  It is better than I had hoped, but I guess I kind of expected that, too.  Mark Knopfler at his best is the musical equivalent of comfort food and good beer, something that fills my heart with feelings of well-being and good will.

The first song on the album is an absolute triumph of Knopfler’s musical genius.  It starts and ends with homage to one of my favorite pieces of music, Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”.  It’s a neat statement of seriousness and musical sophistication surrounding a more Celtic folky song with a maritime bent.  The easy mixture is a gentle tap on the shoulder – “pay attention here – this is enjoyable music, but that doesn’t mean it’s shallow.”

Another gem is “River Towns”, which blends Knopfler’s trademarked fluid guitar style with an evocative, haunting saxophone.  It tells the tale of a shabby hook-up by the banks of the Ohio River.  At the end, the encounter exacts an unexpected cost:

something’s hit a nerve
And I’m looking in the mirror
At the face that I deserve.

“Silver Eagle” is a touching piece about passing on a tour bus through the town of a former lover, and not reaching out.  It describes the experience of performing on stage:

At his feet a sea of faces
Make devotions with their love
Clap their hands and plead their cases
Call for blessings from above
Like the rolling waves forever massing
To crash and foam and creep away

Many of the songs center on the walking wounded.  Whether it’s a literal wound, as in “Broken Bones” (a jumpy, hand-clapping, tough guy answer to the Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer”) or the frustrated poet/copy boy in “Basil”, Knopfler is a master of empathy.  The album is populated with underdogs painted in warm colors.  It’s a generous album, filled with love, not a voyeuristic freak show.  Dire Straits made millions sneering at some knuckleheads in “Money for Nothing”, but Knopfler’s rich, deep, weathered voice has mellowed to the point that it doesn’t seem to have the edge for a sneer.  Or maybe he’s matured past the point of sneering.  Regardless, what is left is warm, generous and comfortable.

I’ve only been listening to this album for a week, and I can already tell this is going to wind up on my long-time playlist.   “Wherever I Go”, a long-distance love song is probably going to raise the hairs on my arm when I’m driving in the night for years to come, with the touching duet of Knopler and Ruth Moody, accentuated by the saxophone and every-bit-as-majestic guitar work. 

I probably owe an apology to the readers for completely abandoning the cynicism and edge I try to bring to most of my reviews.  I’m sorry, but all that melted away with the first song.  If you’re looking for something to complain about, I expect you could quibble with “.38 Special”, a banjo piece that compares a gambler’s heart favorably to politicians and insurance men, but I think it’s worth keeping just so those dull-witted reviewers who claim the album sounds all the same look a little bit foolish.

Over at Deliberate Obfuscation, Robin also expresses her appreciation of the album.  She complains that it is a little long, perhaps even tending toward tedium, but that might be my own fault, for getting us the Deluxe version which included four extra songs.  Having written the above review before reading hers, I was relieved that she did not claim that the album sounds all the same.

Next up: Ivy Tripp, by Waxahatchee

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