A sweeping decade-long retrospective, a superb Vinyl release!
Mark Knopfler – The Studio Albums 1996-2007 – Warner Records/Rhino Entertainment 11-LP Set 180-gram stereo vinyl boxed set + digital download + exclusive lithographs ****1/2:
(Featuring five studio albums plus an additional vinyl of B-Sides)
Mark Knopfler has enjoyed a multifaceted career. As the primary songwriter and lead guitarist for Dire Straits, he became a Grammy-winning artist. The single “Sultans Of Swing” from the self-titled debut album was a big hit. Knopfler recorded other well-received albums with the group, and Dire Straits became a worldwide sensation with “Money For Nothing” (from Brothers In Arms) in 1985. He has scored several movie soundtracks, including Wag The Dog, Local Hero, Comfort And Joy and The Princess Bride, His inimitable finger-picking guitar style, relaxed baritone vocal delivery and reflective songwriting facilitated his transition to solo work.
Warner Brothers Records and Rhino Entertainment has released an 11-LP 180-gram vinyl set of solo material. Mark Knopfler – The Studio Albums 1996–2007 is comprised of the artist’s first 5 studio albums (all double vinyl) and a single LP of “B-Sides”. Two of the many highlights of this boxed set are the first-ever vinyl releases of Knopfler’s initial studio albums, Golden Heart and Sailing To Philadelphia. Golden Heart is a quintessential mix of folk, rock and blues with consistent listenability. There are medium-tempo rockers like “Darling Pretty” and “Vic And Ray”. Knopfler’s understated guitar and smooth vocals are compelling. On harder-edged numbers like “Imelda” and “No Can Do”, the crisp guitar lines are agile and fluent. There are country translations (“Are We In Trouble Now”), traditional folk (“Golden Heart”, “Done With Bonaparte”) and meditative rumination (“I’m The Fool”). The sequencing is excellent…each track flows into the next. This formula continues with even greater agility on Sailing To Philadelphia. Both the songwriting and overall star power of Knopfler are in abundance on this album. With a vocal assist from James Taylor, the dialogue-structured title cut glows with nuanced tempo and melody. Van Morrison lends soulfulness to “The Last Laugh” which has Memphis-style horns and organ. Knopfler’s slower grooves inhabit songs like “What It Is”. His affinity for elegiac mood and narrative inhabit textured numbers like “Silvertown Blues”, “Prairie Wedding” and “Wanderlust”. Country Americana (with race track imagery) infuses “Speedway At Nazareth”, while soul searching is captured in waltz-time on “The Sands Of Nevada”. But there is a gritty blues song, “Junkie Doll”, that has a familiar jagged guitar lead.
For the third album (The Ragpicker’s Dream), Knopfler eschews some of the Dire Straits aesthetics and offers an adroit collection of roots-based material. The album feels conceptual, voiced from the titular character’s point of view. “Why Aye Man” recounts the tale of laborers migrating to Europe, articulated with folk motifs, backed by the studio band. Knopfler’s customary lithe guitar licks are brilliant. His plaintive eloquence is articulated on cuts like the gossamer “Hill Farmer’s Blues” and the title track. Tales of hardscrabble life are rendered in bluesy contexts on “Fare Thee Well Northumberland” and “Marbletown” (a rare solo acoustic performance). Again there is a variety of sonic textures (even a loping Hawaiian-like tune, “Quality Shoes”). Shangri–La is another fine album, with cogent songwriting and tasteful guitar work. The signature mellow vibe gets kicked off with the coal miner opus, “5:15 A.M”. There are references to American icons on hook-driven blues jams like “Song For Sonny Liston” and “Boom Like That” (Ray Kroc). He also pays tribute to Elvis on the folkier “Back To Tupelo”. The slower jams (“The Trawlerman’s Song”, “Our Shangri-La”, “Sucker Row”) are atmospheric and hypnotic.
The final studio re-mastered album, Kill To Get Crimson embraces rootsy folk music. From the simple arrangements of “True Love Will Never Fail” “The Scaffolder’s Wife” and “The Fizzy And The Still” there is a gentle discourse of everyday life, framed by relaxed guitar riffs. Additionally, there are Celtic-infused numbers with occasional reed, violin or accordion that help to articulate these thoughtful stories, including, “The Fish And The Bird”, “True Love Will Never Fade”, “In The Sky”, “Behind With The Rent” and “We Can Get Wild”. It always fits into the glowing musical imprint. The only thing equal to this great solo catalog is…more! The final disc (the only single vinyl) is a collection of 9 “B Sides” which are predominately taken from the Golden Heart and Sailing To Philadelphia sessions.
Mark Knopfler – The Studio Albums 1996-2007 is a great retrospective of this auspicious early career repertoire. The re-mastered sound by Miles Showell (Abbey Road Studios) is crisp and balanced. Presented in a sturdy housing box, the 6 albums have insert liner notes and protected disc sleeves. These pressings are excellent with virtually no hisses or pops. This boxed set will delight Knopfler aficionados and fans of good music.
Side A: Darlin’ Pretty; Imelda; Golden Heart
Side B: No Can Do; Vic And Ray; Don’t You Get It; A Night In Summer Long Ago
Side C: Cannibals; I’m The Fool; Je Suis Desole; Rudiger
Side D: Nobody’s Got The Gun; Done With Bonaparte; Are We In Trouble Now
Disc Two (Sailing To Philadelphia)
Side A: What It Is; Sailing To Philadelphia; Who’s Your Baby Now
Side B: Baloney Again; The Last Laugh; Do America; Silvertown Blues
Side C: El Macho; Prairie Wedding; Wanderlust
Side D: Speedway At Nazareth; Junkie Doll; Sands Of Nevada; One More Matinee
Disc Three (The Ragpicker’s Dream)
Side A: Why Aye Man; Devil Baby; Hill Farmer’s Blues
Side B: A Place Where We Used To Live; Quality Shoe; Fare Thee Well Northumberland
Side C: Marbletown; You Don’t Know You’re Born; Coyote
Side D: The Ragpicker’s Dream; Daddy’s Gone To Knoxville; Old Pigweed
Disc Four (Shangri-La)
Side A: 5:15 A.M.; Boom Like That; Sucker Row
Side B: The Trawlerman’s Song; Back To Tupelo; Our Shangri-La
Side C: Everybody Pays; Song For Sonny Liston; Whoop De Doo; Postcards From Paraguay
Side D: All That Matters; Stand Up Guy; Donegan’s Gone; Don’t Crash The Ambulance
Disc Five (Kill To Get Crimson)
Side A: True Love Will Never Fade; The Scaffolder’s Wife; The Fizzy And The Still
Side B: Heart Full Of Holes; We Can Get Wild; Secondary Waltz
Side C: Punish The Monkey; Let It All Go; Behind With The Rent
Side D: The Fish And The Bird; Madam Geneva’s; In The Sky.
Disc Six (Gravy Train: The B-Sides 1996-2007)
Side A: Small Potatoes; What Have I Got To Do; Gravy Train; My Claim To Fame
Side B: Summer Of Love; Camerado; Tall Order Baby; Let’s See You; The Long Highway