Tuesday, May 25, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 128: Mark Knopfler

Strangely, my last two reviews (Sting and Steve Earle) I specifically mentioned Mark Knopfler, and now, here comes a disc by Knopfler.

Disc 128 is...The Ragpicker's Dream
Artist: Mark Knopfler

Year of Release: 2002

What’s Up With The Cover?: A young working class couple dances in their kitchen. She seems to fancy him, despite the fact that his pants are rolled up too high.

How I Came To Know It: I was already a fan of Knopfler's solo work through his two previous albums when this one came out. I bought it without hesitation.

How It Stacks Up: I have eight of Knopfler's solo albums, 2 of which are collaborations. This is not one of those. Of the eight, I'd say "Ragpicker's Dream is about 5th (4th out of the 6 solo albums).

Rating: 2 stars.

Knopfler's solo career over the past twenty years is a real study in doing whatever the hell you want. The guy has lots of money and his albums since leaving Dire Straits reflect the career of a man who is more interested in pursuing his wide musical interests than in re-establishing commercial success. I really admire this approach, even if I'm not always enamoured with the results.

The two Knopfler solo albums preceding "Ragpicker's Dream" (1996's "Golden Heart" and 2000's "Sailing to Philadelphia") are some of his finest work. "Ragpicker's Dream" definitely suffers by comparison. It just isn't the same quality of work.

One thing that is always on display, is Knopfler's mastery of the electric guitar, and "Ragpicker's Dream" shows him playing a much more understated style than usual, while not losing that big bluesy style. Everything about Mark Knopfler's guitar work is so perfectly constructed, yet the way he plays, it always seems like he is making it up as he goes along. Songs like "Hill Farmer's Blues" show Knopfler off at his most quietly confident.

That said, few songs stand out on this record. There are some good bluesy tracks, like "You Don't Know You're Born" and "Coyote" (the latter of which is actually a song about Wile E. Coyote, from cartoon fame), but these songs are few and far between and when they do appear, they are merely good, not great.

As Knopfler's solo career goes along, he has also delved into increasingly obscure storytelling. Don't get me wrong - I like good stories about working class heroes as much as anyone, but I find they are more compelling when there is some sense of character developed. Songs like "Why Aye Man" and "Marbletown" tell interesting working class experiences, but without defined character, it is hard to hang your emotional hat on them.

Compare this with my last album, where every story Steve Earle tells provides a snapshot of history, enriched further by the colourful characters that the songwriter has us see events through. On Knopfler's earlier two kicks at this musical style, he gets this lesson well. On "Ragpicker's Dream" this is often lacking.

That said, the album is definitely worth a listen, if nothing else than to listen to a master guitar player, still fearlessly finding new ways to explore his craft more than twenty years after he first blasted onto the stage.

Best tracks: Why Aye Man, You Don't Know Your Born, Coyote.

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