Wednesday, February 24, 2016

CD Odyssey Disc 836: Mark Knopfler

I’m feeling a little under the weather today. This rarely happens to me and my usual approach is to ignore it. And on that note, let’s get on to the music!

Disc 836 is….Kill To Get Crimson
Artist: Mark Knopfler

Year of Release: 2007

What’s up with the Cover? An artful take on a row of scooters. The guy on the left has parked his so it takes up multiple spots. When you do this with a car it is called “high siding.” In either case it is done by jerks.

How I Came To Know It: I love Mark Knopfler’s solo stuff. When he puts out an album, I just go buy it. That’s what happened here. Sorry there isn’t more mystery.

How It Stacks Up:  I have eight Mark Knopfler solo albums, not counting the albums he does in partnership with other artists. One of those albums had to come in last and sadly, “Kill to Get Crimson” is the one.

Ratings: 2 stars

With pockets overflowing from his career in Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler’s second career as a folksinger/songwriter has always had the air of “I do whatever I want” about it. For the most part, I find myself loving picking up what Mark is putting down, but on “Kill to Get Crimson” he lost me a bit.

Knopfler has an innate talent to tell a story, and he likes the stories of real historical people and characters that just feel real enough to have existed with equal ability. It helps if you like a rambling tale or two about ordinary folks getting by in the world, and generally I do. I also enjoy the way Knopfler weaves intricate blue notes into the stories, letting his guitar’s voice mingle with his to punctuate the tale.

Regrettably, while “Kill to Get Crimson” has the same formula for success, I found the results uneven. There are tales of Second World War boys learning to dance while waiting to ship out to D-Day, aging boxers and struggling painters. It’s a rogue’s gallery that is perfect for Knopfler’s insightful touch but I found I had to make an effort to get into these songs. It might be the music more than the lyrics, but whatever it is, I wasn’t drawn in.

Heart Full of Holes” does a better job, singing of a holocaust survivor. This song’s tune didn’t blow me away but Knopfler’s ability to cover a topic in a dignified and respectful way won me over nonetheless.

The best character study on the album is “The Scaffolder’s Wife” about an aging wife of a local tradesman. She keeps the company books and goes into town once a week in her big convertible Mercury:

“The quick little steps
In the stiletto boots
And the hair with the roots
She comes in as a rule
To get the nails done
And the tan for the sun
When the kids are in school.”

Knopfler’s vision of this person is a lovely palette of hard and soft qualities. Here is a woman who is tough and blue collar, but still wants to feel like a lady. If she spends a little bit of money on a nice car and a few pleasantries, let’s remember she’s had a hard life and earned a little luxury. By the end of the song I just want to give this woman a big friendly hug she felt so real to me.

The other standout on the album is “Punish the Monkey” a song about how so often the people who take the fall for something going wrong are not the masterminds behind it at all. The song’s metaphor being that we punish the monkey ‘but let the organ grinder go.”

While “The Scaffolder’s Wife” has a lilted folk refrain, “Punish the Monkey” has Knopfler digging more into the blues, a fitting musical form for betrayal and injustice. This song also shows the best of Knopfler’s guitar work on the album. On other songs I felt like I’d heard the solos before on earlier tracks, but “Punish the Monkey” has a fresh feeling while remaining solidly in Knopfler’s wheelhouse.

And more than anything, that is this album’s saving grace; that Knopfler plays guitar on it. He is the best there is, and even when he’s just ambling through a few new songs the result is better than what most axe-men can muster.

I wanted to like this album more than I did, and I even kept it on rotation for an extra day but I couldn’t bring it above two stars. It could be that I am comparing Knopfler against his own work, which is a tall mountain to climb. Whatever it was, “Kill To Get Crimson” was merely OK for me.

Best tracks:  True Love Will Never Fade, The Scaffolder’s Wife, Punish the Monkey

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