Friday, 30 November 2018

Cat Stevens




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The albums covered here are:-

Mona Bone Jakon (1970)
Tea For The Tillerman (1970)
Teaser And The Firecat (1971)
Catch Bull At Four (1972)
Foreigner (1973)
and Buddha And The Chocolate Box

Scroll down to read the reviews.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
MONA BONE JAKON (1970)

1. Lady D'Arbanville
2. Maybe You're Right
3. Pop Star
4. I Think I See The Light
5. Trouble
6. Mona Bone Jakon
7. I Wish, I Wish
8. Katmandu
9. Time
10. Fill My Eyes
11. Lilywhite                 

Cat Stevens had suffered from tuberculosis in 1968 and after considerable recuperation, he returned in early 1970 with this highly impressive album. Always a sensitive lyricist, the slightly pop styled songs he had released a few years previously had developed into some seriously reflective, spiritual and wise material. This was going to be his most productive and fecund period as a recording artist.
                      
Lady D'Arbanville is just gorgeous. Haunting and mysterious. Who was she, I wonder? His ex-lover, apparently. When listening to the song I always imagine her as some historical character. It is a supremely atmospheric song. Maybe You're Right is a mid-tempo rock-ish ballad with hints of Bob Dylan from the same era about it. Not sure which song. I Threw It All Away, I think.

Pop Star is blues rocky and sees Stevens already cynical about the pitfalls of fame and the music industry. I Think I See The Light is very early Elton John in style, full of vocal attack and a rocking vibe. This is Stevens at his effervescent, spirited best. His spiritual quest is beginning to be given expression.



Trouble is a laid-back, beautiful acoustic ballad. Again, Stevens did this sort of thing so well. Mona Bone Jakon is a short song in praise of Stevens’ penis, apparently. This was his name for it. Coming from the gentle, sensitive Stevens, it sits somewhat incongruously. I am sure the Lady D’Arbanville enjoyed it, though. I Wish, I Wish is a rocky, vibrant number with a ending drum and piano sound and Stevens ruminating on the pace of the modern world an hoping for a better future. A great guitar solo passage in the middle of it too.

Katmandu is a wistful, airy acoustic and sublime bass-based ballad, with a bit of folky flute thrown in there too. It is a truly beautiful piece of music and vocals. A bit Crosby, Stills and Nash in places. Tapping in to the relaxing, chilled-out folky trend of the era. It is perfect. Time is an almost psychedelic ballad, although it is still acoustic, with some sweeping string orchestration. It sounds like mid 1990s Paul Weller. He must have listened to this. It segues seamlessly into the similarly beguiling Fill My Eyes, another razor-sharp acoustic ballad. Lilywhite is a beautifully orchestrated song, its backing almost classical. A lovely end to a thought-provoking and meaningful piece of work.

  

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

TEA FOR THE TILLERMAN (1970)


1. Where Do The Children Play?
2. Hard Headed Woman
3. Wild World
4. Sad Lisa
5. Miles From Nowhere
6. But I Might Die Tonight
7. Longer Boats
8. Into White
9. On The Road To Find Out
10. Father To Son
11. Tea For The Tillerman    

This is a melodic and effortlessly appealing album from an artist who was about enter the best few years of his career. Cat Stevens, as you would expect, from his later development, was beginning to express spirituality in his songs, but many of them were also simple tender, romantic and sensitive love songs. Stevens sung also of the conflict between young and old, the search for spiritual satisfaction and he expressed a dissatisfaction with a world he found increasingly soulless and at times abhorrent. However, at the same time as expressing all this angst that found so many eager listeners in student bedsits, Stevens never lost his skill in creating a perfect pop song, honed in the sixties. This was always with him. He had an ear for a melody, for sure.
                     
Where Do The Children Play? questions technological progress and builds up slowly and acoustically, with razor sharp guitars reproduced in wonderful remastered sound quality and ends with a solid rock beat. Just as it starts to up its beat, it comes to an end. Enjoyable though. Hard Headed Woman is tender and sensitive, immaculately sung and played, and Wild World is the incredibly catchy hit single well known to many. Maxi Priest released a credible reggae cover of it, as also did Jimmy Cliff.

  

Sad Lisa has hints of Elton John’s Sixty Years On, full of sweeping string orchestration and a stark but melodious piano and a typical articulate, gentle vocal from Stevens. There is a darker side to the song, however, as it explores Lisa’s psychosis. Miles From Nowhere is pounding vibrant almost rock song with some stirring piano and drums and a vocal of power and conviction. But I Might Die Tonight explores the same generation gap/advice themes that occur later in Father And SonLonger Boats is a lyrically incomprehensible mystery of a song, but it has a catchy refrain. Stevens said at the time it was about flying saucers. Yeah, ok Cat. Into White is quiet, introspective and folky. Nick Drake-ish. On The Road To Find Out is a lengthier song about setting out on a spiritual quest, all delivered very tunefully.

Then there is Father To Son. The original, so wise and sensitive. What a song. Maybe Cat Stevens’ finest song ever. It is uplifting, inspiring, heartbreaking and beautiful.

Tea For The Tillerman ends this beguiling and interesting album with a minute’s worth of semi-song that breaks into a bit of gospel and then ends. You are left wanting more from that one, but not from the album as a whole. It is a good one, and so very 1970-71.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

TEASER AND THE FIRECAT (1971)

1. The Wind
2. Ruby Love
3. If I Laugh
4. Changes IV
5. How Can I Tell You
6. Tuesday's Dead
7. Morning Has Broken
8. Bitterblue
9. Moonshadow
10. Peace Train        

Cat Stevens released a series of phenomenally good albums in the early seventies. This is possibly the best of them. Back then he had the image of a wandering minstrel/troubadour and delivered wise, soothsayer-style lyrics in that reassuring voice of his.
                                   
The Wind is a beautiful, melodic acoustic opener. Ruby Love features the Greek string instrument, the bouzouki, and Stevens singing one verse in Greek (he was born to Greek parents). It is captivating, summery and lively. The Greek feeling makes it really evocative. If I Laugh has a lovely, deep and tuneful bass line and yet another wistful, haunting vocal from Stevens. Yet more crystal clear acoustic guitar and some mesmeric drum work introduces the staccato Changes IV which has Cat rocking out somewhat in his vocal in that stride, strong voice that he could use on such upbeat songs. There tend to be two types of Cat Stevens songs - gentle, tender softly-sung ballads and more aggressive, stop-start acoustic attached songs that usually include pounding drums. Changes IV is one of the latter. The next track, How Can I Tell You is one of the former. It has hints of Elton John’s Elton John album in its almost medieval keyboards. Lyrically, Stevens was either romantic in a child-like, starry-eyed and fascinated sort of way or else he was proselytising on the state of the world or else searching for spiritual fulfilment.


Tuesday's Dead has an upbeat, calypso-style infectious rhythm that sounds very Paul Simon-ish. This album has far more livelier moments than the previous Tea For The Tillerman album, which was more reflective in feel. Cat rocks out a lot more on this album.

Morning Has Broken is maybe my favourite, inspirational hymn of all time. Against a beautiful piano (played by Rick Wakeman of Yes), Stevens delivers in a lovely, gentle, sincere voice that makes it clear just what a beautiful song this was/is. Simply heart-warming, but sad too, in many ways. Just when you are feeling a bit sad and emotional, one of those punchy numbers is back with the rocking Bitterblue. I have to say at this point that the remastered sound is superb on this latest edition.

  

Moonshadow is one of those almost nursery-rhyme songs that Cat did so damn well. It is just totally entrancing. For me, Cat Stevens’ recordings from the early seventies bring so much joy, so much innocence, yet so knowing and wise at the same time. Peace Train continues in that wise vein - it is upbeat, vigorous and uplifting, full of gospelly handclaps and a vocal full of passionate conviction. Cat tells it as it is. Fantastic stuff. It is probably my favourite album of his.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

CATCH BULL AT FOUR (1972)

1. Sitting
2. The Boy With A Moon And Star On His Head
3. Anglesea
4. Silent Sunlight
5. Can't Keep It In
6. 18th Avenue (Kansas City Nightmare)
7. Freezing Steel
8. O' Caritas
9. Sweet Scarlet
10. Ruins        

This was Cat Stevens' final folky album before he bravely attempted to experiment with the following year's Foreigner. He was at a bit of a crossroads, and he was definitely still trying to put the world to rights. He was never comfortable with being a "pop star" yet he seemed to be able to put out regular, appealing albums that always contained a killer hit single. This was not a "bedsitter" album of poetic tenderness, however, there was far more attack, disillusion and religious undertones to be found in its tracks. Were the old studenty fans still with him? Maybe not.
                                             
Sitting is an Elton John-influenced, piano-driven solid ballad with Stevens on customary dominant vocal form. There is an impressive rolling drum passage half way through the song. The Boy With A Moon And Star On His Head has a T. Rex-inspired title and a very America-style acoustic guitar backing. It has a plaintive, poetic hippy-inspired lyric, as one had come to expect from Stevens in this period. It actually is a rather lovely song. however. Anglesea has a rapidly-strummed acoustic backing that reminds me of some of Neil Diamond's late sixties material. The track is energetic and committed and includes some wonderful keyboard riffs and some Greek folk music choral backing.

  

Silent Sunlight is a plaintively sung ballad with some lovely strings and a moving vocal. Yes, Stevens' voice has always brought accusations of melodrama, but one could never doubt his sincerity or indeed, his ability to move the soul. The jerky, catchy Can't Keep It In was the album's hit single, and deservedly so. It has a captivating organ riff and a typically uncompromising vocal.

18th Avenue (Kansas City Nightmare) also has echoes of Elton John about it. Surely Billy Joel was influenced by this too. Great orchestration on it and inspirational piano. Freezing Steel is in the same vein, but more quirkily energetic. O' Caritas is sung in Greek (until right at the end) and borrows completely from the Greek folk tradition. It is most atmospheric. Sweet Scarlet is a gentle, tuneful, sparsely-backed ballad. Ruins is slightly reminiscent of David Bowie's acoustically-driven rock from the same period. The thoughtful lyrics and instinctive sincerity that characterised Stevens' late sixties/early seventies work is still here. This is still a good album.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

FOREIGNER (1973)

1. Foreigner Suite
2. The Hurt
3. How Many Times
4. Later
5. 100 I Dream        

After four folky, sensitive, acoustically-driven, wordily titled albums in Mona Bone JakonTea For The Tillerman, Teaser And The Firecat and Catch Bull At FourCat Stevens decided to change direction somewhat. Possibly inspired by contemporaries in the prog rock genre, he went experimental, releasing an album containing only five tracks. The original "side one" was one continuous "suite" lasting eighteen minutes. All very ambitious. The problem with ambition is that it can over-reach, and to a certain extent that was what happened here. The concept didn't really work and, tellingly, the next album, Buddah And The Chocolate Box saw a return to the previous blueprint.
                           
In many ways, the Foreigner Suite's content could have been divided in to four four minute-something songs, as opposed to an amalgam of tempting, teasing vignettes. Stevens also employs a group of New York session musicians in the place of his regular ones and the quality is good, powerful but it loses some of the previous albums' homely, folky appeal. This is muscular, solid stuff. Much of the sound is keyboard-based (as opposed to acoustic interplay) and there are sweeping string passages, Beatles-esque brass sections and even some funky, rhythmic parts straight out of a blaxploitation soundtrack, plus some Jethro Tull-influenced flute. Some Elton John piano is in there too. I remember at the time that the whole "concept" of this didn't really catch on with the public.

The "second" passage at about five minutes in, the "freedom calling" passage, would have made a fine Elton John-ish track. Each singing bit is linked by some impressive instrumental breaks. Stevens' voice, when it arrives, is strong and committed, the lyrics concerning his feelings about being considered something of a "foreigner" due to his Greek heritage, or so it sounds to me anyway. Stevens himself says it is about feeling a foreigner in attempting to play material influenced by black music. I'm not convinced by that, to be honest. While it has soulful aspects, it is certainly no exploration into black music.

  

The "there are no words" passage is evocative and Stevens' vocal is moving. This would have made a good track too. It is uplifting and inspiring, in a gospelly way at times. As I said earlier, there are several winning parts to this suite. The final piano part is infectious too. The whole suite is listenable, its eighteen minutes do not drag, due to its many changes of pace. Fair play to Stevens for attempting this.

The Hurt is a staccato rock tune with lots of female backing vocals and a strong vocal. How Many Times is a yearning ballad, with a solid bass, piano and drum backing. It is another emotive song. Later is probably the most "black music"-influenced number, with some funky wah-wah guitar and a pounding funk drum rhythm. It is a distinct change in style from anything Stevens had recorded previously. 100 I Dream has a catchy, almost country rock feel to it, the one throwback to his previous material. It is instantly recognisable as Cat Stevens and is a fetching track. It also has a few subtle soulful/funky touches as well.

This album is currently available very cheaply, particularly to download. It is well worth it.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

BUDDAH AND THE CHOCOLATE BOX (1974)

1. Music
2. Oh Very Young
3. Sun/C79
4. Ghost Town
5. Jesus
6. Ready
7. King Of Trees
8. A Bad Penny
9. Home In The Sky   

After the experimental five track only album in Foreigner that perplexed critics and fans alike, Cat Stevens returned with an album that was far closer to his previous ones. It proved to be one of his most successful and fondly-remembered offerings.

This is slightly less of a folky album than its predecessors,  though, carrying more of a rock thump to it in places. The old Stevens subtlety and unassuming beauty is omnipresent, however.
                               
The opener, Music is a vibrant, drum, guitar and piano driven number. Very “rock”. Even Oh Very Young, the melodic hit single, has a catchy, mellow rockiness to it when it kicks in. The tune is just so typical Cat, though. So mellifluous. The piano is sumptuous. The song is simply beautiful. Sun/C79 has an intoxicating rhythm and pulsating attack from Stevens vocally and with his firmly strummed trusty acoustic guitar. Ghost Town is almost bluesy in places, with a harmonica backing and resounding drum sound.

  

Jesus is a short rumination upon the character of Christ and Buddha that unfortunately ends before it has truly got going. Many of the songs on the album were full of religious imagery, however.

Ready is another short but catchy number. King Of Trees is longer - a lovely piano-led melody, full of cadence and harmonious backing vocals, a full minute or so before Stevens arrives. It seems allegorial about the environment. These songs are so sincere, so intense, so serious, but so appealing too.

That familiar medieval-style keyboard is used on A Bad Penny to great effect, as it always is. Cat’s vocal is excellent on this one, as is the backing. Home In The Sky starts with some a capella vocals before a churchy piano and organ lead us into an infectious slow and beautiful closer. Beautiful is a word I have used a lot. “Music is a lady that I still love” sings Cat. Yes, and she is beautiful.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Mark Knopfler




--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The albums covered here are:-

Golden Heart (1996)
Sailing To Philadelphia (2000)
The Ragpicker's Dream (2002)
Shangri-La (2004)
Kill To Get Crimson (2007)
Get Lucky (2009)
Privateering (2012)
Tracker (2015)
and Down The Road Wherever (2018)

Scroll down to read the reviews.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GOLDEN HEART (1996)

1. Darling Pretty
2. Imelda
3. Golden Heart
4. No Can Do
5. Vic And Ray
6. Don't You Get It
7. A Night In Summer Long Ago
8. Cannibals
9. I'm The Fool
10. Je Suis Desole
11. Rudiger
12. Nobody's Got The Gun
13. Done With Bonaparte
14. Are We In Trouble Now        

This was Mark Knopfler's first solo album after disbanding Dire Straits, and while here are some Straits-isms present here, there are also several nods towards the Celtic folk influences and historical storytelling that would be present on many of Knopfler's subsequent solo offerings. In that respect it is very much a "bridging" album between the two periods of his career.
            
It is a warm and personable album, kicking off with the Northumbrian pipes intro and then the grandoise majesty of the wonderful Darling Pretty (a song I have always related to my wife, so personally it means a lot to me). It has a huge riffy opening and a dramatic, anthemic quality with Knopfler sounding as emotionally committed as he has done in all his career thus far. Some great guitar on it too. Imelda sort of recycles the Money For Nothing riff in a muscular, blues rock tale of the Filipina Imelda Marcos. This would have sat easily on the last Dire Straits album, to be honest. Some more guitar of the sort that many keep bemoaning he doesn't come up with anymore is on this one. Golden Heart is sumptuously beautiful. The folky, Celtic airs are arriving now. I love Knopfler's solo work for things like this, more than I do Dire Straits, if I'm honest. It is such an evocative, atmospheric number. Love it. There is something vaguely Springsteen-esque (post 1990) about it too, for me.

 

No Can Do is a Heavy Fuel-style bluesy rocker with a solid riff and drums over Knopfler's now trademark laconic vocal. It has an almost funky beat at times. Vic And Ray is one of those folky, West End type tales of characters possibly from Knopfler's past. Although, as they are rent boys, let's hope he just observed them from afar! It is similar to some of the material on Dire Straits' debut album. More solid guitar parts near the end. Don't You Get It is an upbeat, lively Dire Straits-ish rocker. A Night In Summer Long Ago has the Northumbrian (or maybe Uillean?) pipes back for a song of true, romantic beauty. Forget Money For Nothing. This is the soul of Mark Knopfler for me.

Cannibals is a Cajun-style rocker in a vaguely Walk Of Life style. It is ok, but not my favourite on the album. I'm The Fool is a laid-back, country-ish acoustic ballad with some lovely steel guitar in the background. Again, it sounds like Springsteen's slower 1992 era material in places. Je Suis Desolé is a folky, lively number, another of my favourites. Rudiger is an interesting song about an obsessed autograph hunter. Once again, is is low-key, quiet and folk-influenced. It has a sort of Parisian feel to it.

Done With Bonaparte is a fascinating "history" song about the Napoleonic Wars. Nobody's Got The Gun is very reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen's Man At The Top in parts. Are We In Trouble Now is a somnolent, country ballad to end this most pleasurable album on. It is always enjoyable to dig this album out.

  

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
SAILING TO PHILADELPHIA (2000)

1. What It Is
2. Sailing To Philadelphia
3. Who's Your Baby Now
4. Baloney Again
5. The Last Laugh
6. Do America
7. Silvertown Blues
8. El Macho
9. Prairie Wedding
10. Wanderlust
11. Speedway At Nazareth
12. Junkie Doll
13. Sands of Nevada
14. One More Matinee   

Nine years or so after Dire Straits' last album, many people saw this, Mark Knopfler's second album, as something of a Straits-like creation. I am not so sure I agree with that. The guitar solos have gone and the lyrics are very much Knopfler solo ones, as opposed to the style he used to write for Dire Straits. We have historically-influenced songs and ones telling of the lives of the ordinary working characters Knopfler so admires. These type of songs did not really feature in the Dire Straits canon, so, for me, it is very much a Knopfler solo offering. The influences are very much AmericanaVan Morrison (who appears on one track) and Bob Dylan and the album, while having its laid-back rock feel, is also quite a folky one.
                          
What It Is is sort of reminiscent of Dire Straits' later material, particularly in its guitar breaks, but it also has that folky feel that would characterise so much of Knopfler's solo work from this point on. Knopfler's semi-spoken, whispery vocal is to the fore. The final guitar solo is very Dire Straits. Sailing To Philadelphia is one of his "history" songs, telling of the creation of the "Mason-Dixon line" across the USA. It is a very folky, sleepy song and very evocative. It also features James Taylor singing the role of Charles Mason to Knopfler's Jeremiah DixonWho's Your Baby Now is an acoustic-driven, upbeat rocky number with echoes of Tom Petty in there somewhere as well as some Elvis Costello & The Attractions-style organ powering it along. Baloney Again is a shuffling bluesy rock number with a staccato beat and a laconic Knopfler vocal. Some more excellent guitar features on this one. I am sure it was slightly influenced by Bill WithersCold Baloney.

 

The appealing The Last Laugh  features Van Morrison duetting with Knopfler. Morrison's vocal brings the song to life, it has to be said, with a real soulful vibrancy. The two voices complement each other well. Do America is a lively, rocky Americana-style number with organ breaks that bring to mind Elvis Costello & The Attractions once again. The melodic Silvertown Blues is another infectious Straits-ish yet folky number, with hints of Bruce Springsteen's Lucky Town in its "down in Silvertown" bit.   For the first time, on this one, you get a bit of Dire Straits-ish guitar. El Macho has a suitable latin flavoured syncopation, a big bassy beat, with some fetching trumpet making a change from guitar backing. Prairie Wedding is a walking pace slow folk blues, full of desert and dustbowl imagery and Mark doing one of those semi-whispering vocals.

Wanderlust is a punchy, bassy, slow tempo mournful number with Knopfler giving us his best growly, whispered vocal, a bit gruffer this time. Speedway At Nazareth is a very Americana-ish slice of folk blues with more echoes of some of Bruce Springsteen's post 1995 work. Junkie Doll begins with some classic Rolling Stones-style blues guitar and has Knopfler reminiscing about earlier days in London's Turnpike Lane and Turnham Green. It has a bit of a feel of The Faces about it too. By the sleepy Sand Of Nevada and the admittedly quiet and moving One More Matinee the album has probably lasted two tracks too many, to be honest. Overall, though, it is an impressive and highly enjoyable album.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
THE RAGPICKER'S DREAM (2002)

1. Why Aye Man
2. Devil Baby
3. Hill Farmer's Blues
4. A Place Where We Used To Live
5. Quality Shoe
6. Fare Thee Well Northumberland
7. Marbletown
8. You Don't Know You're Born
9. Coyote
10. The Ragpicker's Dream
11. Daddy's Gone To Knoxville
12. Old Pigweed   
                                          
This album was where Mark Knopfler really built on the foundations of folk, blues, gentle rock and British/Americana folk traditions that he had begun on his first two solo albums. People hoping for Dire Straits-style extended guitar solos would not find them here. There is an acoustic emphasis on many of the tracks, with folky soloing and sensitive, thoughtful, socially aware lyrics, often built around working class characters from Northumberland. It is a very North-Eastern album. Yes, the songs may have a pastoral/bucolic fee, but there is also an edge of social injustice and the harsh reality of life. This is never expressed better than in the opener Why Aye Man, about British builders having to travel to Germany in search of work. Despite its acoustic intro, there is also some killer bluesy guitar on this most evocative track. Its uplifting, singalong beat disguises its world-weary sadness, however.



Devil Baby is another beautifully melodic and sad song. Echoes of Americana and country rock blend perfectly with Knopfler's quiet British folk voice. This sort of material is similar to that Knopfler played in his Notting Hillbillies sideline. Hill Farmer's Blues again merges Americana stylings with Northern British pastoral issues. Knopfler sings of Northumbrian farmers "going into Tow Law...", (a County Durham town). Its percussion backing is almost Irish in its bodhran-like sound. A Place Where We Used To Live is very Elvis Costello-like in its slow, piano-backed ballad  delivery, and Knopfler's voice is very Chris Rea in places.



Quality Shoe borrows heavily from Roger Miller's King Of The Road and is an upbeat country song in praise of a good pair of shoes. Fare Thee Well Northumberland is a slow, bluesy piece of British folk that shows you don't have to come from the Mississippi Delta to write and sing stuff like this. I love it. Marbletown is a very finger-picking acoustic folk number with Dylanesque airs. You Don't Know You're Born has a shuffling, bluesy beat and is probably the most Dire Straits-like number on the album. The guitar at the end is almost Shadows-like in places. Coyote has hints of Bruce Springsteen's post 2000 work about it and also features some excellent rumbling blues guitar too. The title track is beautifully gentle and atmospheric. Daddy's Gone To Knoxville is a lively slice of country honky tonk swing, as far from Dire Straits as you could get, in many ways. Old Pigweed has Knopfler sleepily signing off in what has become his now trademark semi-spoken laconic vocal style.

This material would certainly not please the stadium rock fans that Dire Straits attracted, but Knopfler doesn't give a damn about that. Neither do I. Although I own all the Dire Straits albums, it is these solo ones I return to far more regularly.

Photo by Newcastle Portraits.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
SHANGRI-LA (2004)

1. 5.15 a.m.
2. Boom, Like That
3. Sucker Row
4. The Trawlerman's Song
5. Back To Tupelo
6. Our Shangri-La
7. Everybody Pays
8. Song For Sonny Liston
9. Whoop De Doo
10. Postcards From Paraguay
11. All That Matters
12. Stand Up Guy
13. Donegan's Gone
14. Don't Crash The Ambulance  

Mark Knopfler has a skill of producing Americana-influenced folky laid-back rock that often deals with uniquely British characters - North Eastern colliers, Northumbrian farmers, North Sea fishermen, dodgy cockneys and the like, as well as a few American characters in there too. This is very much the blueprint for Knopfler solo albums - socially aware, sensitive lyrics largely about British working characters and backed by American folk-influenced music. This is more of an American-styled album, though, with slightly less of the British folk and Celtic influences as one previous (and subsequent) albums.
            
5.15 a.m. is one of Knopfler's socially aware songs, full of imagery of the industrial North-East UK, quite what the song is about though, I'm not quite sure. It seems to be about a cockney coming up to the North East, "Get Carter"-style and getting killed, and some stuff about one-armed bandits too. a bit confusing, but very atmospheric all the same. Musically, it is folky but rockily upbeat, as, too, is the next track, the bluesy rock of Boom, Like That, which deals with a Ray Kroc, who apparently launched the MacDonalds franchise. Knopfler appears inspired by Kroc's entrepreneurial spirit. Some excellent guitar features throughout. There are still hints of Dire Straits here and there, but this is very much a Knopfler solo album. This is exemplified by the laid-back folky blues of Sucker Row - Knopfler's semi-whispered, quite vocals and that trademark understated bluesy guitar. The Trawlerman's Song also fits the bill, exhibiting the same characteristics. Most of the material on this album are country-folk ballads and bluesy, slow tempo quiet, reflective, lyrically thoughtful numbers. The album is quite melancholic and doesn't have the "history" narrative songs that featured on his first two solo albums. The songs here are more character-driven ones.

 

Back To Tupelo features some Brothers In Arms-style guitar over its nostalgic, sensitive lyrics about Elvis and his films. Our Shangri-La is similarly quiet and low-key, but all the same is quite beautiful, melodic and moving. Everybody Pays has a sumptuous organ intro and bass line, some impressive guitar too. Song For Sonny Liston, about the legendary boxer, is bluesily evocative, with an Eric Clapton feel about it. It is one of my favourites on the album. Whoop De Doo is pretty mournful, however. Postcards From Paraguay's shuffling, infectious beat lifts the mood back up slightly.

All That Matters and the incredibly Springsteenesque Stand Up Guy are both very low-key, unthreatening and quiet. It is now that the album becomes a bit same-y. The tempo changes a bit with the skiffle beat of the otherwise pretty inessential Donegan's Gone. The final track is a good one, though, the tango-ish slow rhythms and accordion of Don't Crash The Ambulance.

The album, like Sailing To Philadelphia is way too long, though, running out of steam before it's over an hour of running time is up. You can just put it on and let it wash over you, however.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
KILL TO GET CRIMSON (2007)

1. True Love Will Never Fade
2. The Scaffolder's Wife
3. The Fizzy And The Still
4. Heart Full Of Holes
5. We Can Get Wild
6. Secondary Waltz
7. Punish The Monkey
8. Let It All Go
9. Behind With The Rent
10. The Fish And The Bird
11. Madame Geneva's
12. In The Sky      

This is another gentle, tastefully low-key "adult" album from Mark Knopfler. It is another fusion of folk, Americana, country, blues and rock which combine to create Knopfler's unique, instantly recognisable sound. Knopfler's sound is a by now trademark, distinctive easy groove that features several styles, none of which dominate. It is all about the mood, the sound, merged with the lyrics, often sensitive, observant and haunting. It is musically unthreatening, but always understated in its comfortable beauty. It all sounds so wonderfully effortless.
                           
True Love Will Never Fade is so Springsteenesque is could almost be him. It sounds very like If I Should Fall Behind and others from that period. The Scaffolder's Wife is a tender ballad telling of one of Knopfler's "ordinary people" characters featuring some laid-back Dire Straits-ish slow guitar. It is beautiful and moving. The Fizzy And The Still is another quietly attractive number. Heart Full Of Holes is the sort of song that sounds as if it should be sung at a local pub's folk night - all acoustic plucking and earnest, softly delivered lyrics. A few minutes in, the band kick in with a vaguely country waltz beat which adds an appeal to the song. This is a quality song.

  

We Can Get Wild is a later era Dire Straits-ish slow tempo bluesy rock song, with a subtle, shuffling rhythm and the usual quiet vocal. Secondary Waltz is an appealing, nostalgic song about schoolboys being taught to waltz, complete with a waltz beat and violin and accordion backing. It is a most atmospheric song. Quite lovely too, with a fetching Celtic feel. a change of mood and rhythm comes with the almost world music percussion intro of Punish The Monkey, which sounds as if it should be on a Paul Simon album. There is an addictive bluesy sound to it too.

Let It All Go is one of those typical, haunting, Knopfler slow blues rock with Mark getting mournfully nostalgic in his lyrics and whispered but wise-sounding vocal delivery. Behind With The Rent has echoes of the first Dire Straits album, with some nice brass backing near the end. The Fish And The Bird is very Celtic folk in its haunting, plaintive feel. Madame Geneva's is a torch-type morose tale of a drinker's life, packed full of atmospheric lyrics. The Van Morrison-esque In The Sky ends this understated album in suitably low-key fashion. It is another slightly Celtic-influenced folk song, featuring some subtle saxophone, unusually.  Listening to this album is a relaxing, thoughtful experience. It doesn't pull up any trees, it sits quietly there, watching their branches gently sway.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
GET LUCKY (2009)

1. Border Reiver
2. Hard Shoulder
3. You Can't Beat The House
4. Before Gas And TV
5. Monteleone
6. Cleaning My Gun
7. The Car Was The One
8. Remembrance Day
9. Get Lucky
10. So Far From The Clyde
11. Piper To The End

By now, it was high time people stopped comparing Mark Knopfler's solo work with his Dire Straits output. They are completely different entities. Knopfler has now created almost his own genre of traditional-sounding folk/rock songs. They sound as if they are from a bygone age, but they are written by him, most atmospherically. Amidst the Celtic and folk airs, there is still a large debt owed to the blues and swamp rock styles, however. There are just do Dire Straits-style guitar solos, so let it go, eh, people? Every time he releases an album we get the same old gripes from people claiming to be "huge fans" bemoaning the fact that they now find his music "boring". The boring thing is not Knopfler in this instance. If Dire Straits were your thing, listen to them, do not expect the same from Knopfler. It's the Eric Clapton syndrome.
                        
The opener, Border Reiver begins with a Celtic style flute and explores the tradition of the cross-border England/Scotland raiders (pictured at the bottom of the review), brought up to date, about truck drivers. Hard Shoulder is a gentle, acoustic, bass and percussion ballad, with Knopfler never getting out of second gear, but appealingly so. Some nice orchestration features at the end. You Can't Beat The House is a 4/4 time bluesy number with hints of Elvis Costello's Americana-style offerings. Before Gas And TV is a folky,  Celtic-style lament with some fetching Northumbrian pipes and bags of atmosphere. Monteleone is a laid-back, sensitive ballad about making guitars.

  

Cleaning My Gun sees some swampy blues brought to the table. Knopfler does this sort of thing so well. It has vague hints of Bob Dylan's Mississippi, in places, for me. The Car Was The One is a nostalgic ode for a Britain from a time gone by (1963). There is a lot of looking back to people and situations from times past - in both images and characters. Mostly honest blue-collar workers, soldiers or sailors, sportsmen and gamblers. Very Springsteen-esque in parts, but with far more historical context. Knopfler knows his social and cultural history. Remembrance Day is a heartbreaking tale of a village cricket team who went away to fight in WW1. Even the children's choir at the end cannot detract from its moving ambience. Get Lucky is about travelling farm workers and gambling.

The final two tracks are two of the most emotional. So Far From The Clyde is about Glasgow shipworkers, while Piper To The End tells the story of Knopfler's uncle, an army piper who died in his early twenties, in WWII. It is such a beautiful, tender song and a fitting way to end this thoughtful, sensitive, gentle album.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
PRIVATEERING (2012)

1. Redbud Tree
2. Haul Away
3. Don't Forget Your Hat
4. Privateering
5. Miss You Blues
6. Corned Beef City
7. Go, Love
8. Hot Or What
9. Yon Two Crows
10. Seattle
11. Kingdom Of Gold
12. Got To Have Something
13. Radio City Serenade
14. I Used To Could
15. Gator Blood
16. Bluebird
17. Dream Of The Drowned Submariner
18. Blood And Water
19. Today Is Okay
20. After The Beanstalk  

This was Mark Knopfler's first double album and it is a good one, too. It covers all his bases - folk, Celtic folk, Americana blues, rock and even a few nods to the old Dire Straits days, only a few mind. It is full of Bruce Springsteen, Chris Rea and Van Morrison influences in places as well as going full on with Knopfler's trademark laconic voice and often wry, witty, observational lyrics. It maybe a sprawling album, but it is a good sprawling. There isn't a duff track on the album. In many respects it is his finest creation.
                
Redbud Tree is a delightful, acoustic, folky and gentle opener. Haul Away is sad, mournfully Celtic, very much like Piper To The End from Get LuckyDon't Forget Your Hat is full of bluesy slide guitar, a Chris Rea-esque blues full of great harmonica and thumping, addictive beat.

Privateering is typical acoustic Knopfler traditional sounding folk looking back to pirate times, but maybe through rose-coloured spectacles. It kicks in to a powerful rock refrain half way through. Lots of atmosphere present here.

    

Miss You Blues is beautifully heartbreaking, very Springsteen-esque in its folky feel. Lovely typical Knopfler guitar at the end as well. Corned Beef City is wonderful, trademark Knopfler blues rock, upbeat and featuring truck stop lyrics about bacon, egg and sausage. Great stuff. Great rock guitar on it. I love this one. There is some Dire Straits-ish Brothers In Arms-style guitar at the start of the laid-back Go, Love. It is a beautiful song full of killer guitar.

Hot Or What is a copper-bottomed slice of tongue-in-cheek Knopfler blues. There is a lot of Van Morrison about it, for me. Yon Two Crows is Dire Staits-ish but also very traditionally folky in its feel, with a Northumbrian/Celtic feel too. Seattle takes us to the bars of the USA on a most evocative, atmospheric narrative song. Kingdom Of Gold is a low-key, sombre acoustic folk ballad. It goes on a bit too long maybe. Got To Have Something is a rousing, staccato, Dylanesque shuffling blues rocker featuring some great piano. Radio City Serenade is a lovely Knopfler ballad packed with emigré maudlin emotion. Its Celtic feel, sung from someone in the USA, is so moving as is usual from Knopfler on these sort of things.

I Used To Could is a sleep but muscular blues and Gator Blood is a swampy Americana blues as you may imagine from the title. Bluebird is a slow tempo guitar-driven ballad and Dream Of The Drowned Submariner is even more sleepy but quirkily fascinating, lyrically. Blood And Water is another one harking back to a bit of Dire Straits guitar sound, but only here and there. Today Is Okay is a Van Morrison-style blues grinder. After The Beanstalk is a country-ish Band-influenced pice of Americana to finish this excellent album. Yes it tapers off a bit toward the end, but that is a minor gripe. No tracks are not worthy of a listen. Probably best to listen to either disc one or disc two in isolation though to avoid that feeling of too much Knopfler in one sitting.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
TRACKER (2015)

1. Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
2. Basil
3. River Towns
4. Skydiver
5. Mighty Man
6. Broken Bones
7. Long Cool Girl
8. Lights Of Taormina
9. Silver Eagle
10. Beryl
11. Wherever I Go
12. .38 Special
13. My Heart Has Never Changed
14. Terminal Of Tribute To
15. Heart Of Oak     

A laid-back album of beautiful, thoughtful songs in a folky style by the guitar genius that is Mark Knopfler. If you are one if those still desperately searching for some hint of Dire Straits-style sound, then you will be disappointed, just give up. Time has moved on.
                                                   
Basil fondly recalls Knopfler’s early years working on the “Newcastle Chronicle” with a hard-bitten old journalist. Newcastle landmarks are mentioned like the “black church” which refers to the soiled stone blackened by the smoke of the industrial revolution, and Mark Toney’s Ice Cream Parlour, which is still there on Grainger Street.



Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes is similarly nostalgic, with its jazzy intro that breaks out into Celtic/Northumbrian majesty. Lights Of Taormina is just beautiful and Beryl gives the only tiny hint of Dire Straits. The gritty River Towns and Skydiver are impressive too, as is Silver Eagle. The bonus material is nothing special, however, so if money is tight, stick to the basic eleven track album.

There is a trustworthiness to Knopfler’s honest, bluesy work. Like Van Morrison, you know what you are going to get. Long may he continue.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
DOWN THE ROAD WHEREVER (2018)

1. Trapper Man
2. Back On The Dance Floor
3. Nobody's Child
4. Just A Boy Away From Home
5. When You Leave
6. Good On You Son
7. My Bacon Roll
8. Nobody Does That
9. Drovers' Road
10. One Song At A Time
11. Floating Away
12. Slow Learner
13. Heavy Up
14. Matchstick Man      

This is Mark Knopfler's first album for three years or so. You know what you're going to get from him by now - immaculately played, laid-back folky, slow tempo rock. If you like Knopfler, you will like this. It is as simple as that. Nothing much changes in the material he has been putting out for many years now. Having said that, however, I have to say that, of all his solo albums, this contains the most musical diversity. Look, it's not Sgt. Pepper or A Night At The Opera in its chocolate box diversity, but, for Knopfler, it is by far the most changeable, track by track, album he has released. His voice largely remains the same, calm and melancholic, but musically, there is quite a lot in here. It isn't all just a gently strummed acoustic guitar.
                  
The album's opener, Trapper Man is a lengthy robust number with a muscular drum sound, some bluesy guitar interjections and Knopfler's usual quiet, gentle vocal. There is a contemporary-sounding drum section at one point, but largely it is a regular fare, with some trademark guitar throughout. There are vague echoes of Bruce Springsteen's later post-2000 work in places, particularly near the end. Just hints, though, in the piano riff. Back On The Dance Floor is a shuffling, infectious bluesy number that harks back a bit to Dire Straits' final album On Every Street. Something about the rhythm and guitar work reminds me of Knopfler's collaborations with Bryan Ferry, notably Valentine from Ferry's Boys And Girls album. Nobody's Child is a typical, walking pace, sensitive song with Knopfler's quietly reflective vocal sung over some Dire Straits-style slow guitar. One thing I am noticing is he is using this old Straits guitar sound circa Brothers In Arms"/"On Every Street a lot more than he has done on recent albums.

  

Just A Boy Away From Home is an appetising slice of slow blues, like Chris Rea's bluesy material. The leading guitar riff reminds of something but I can't place it at the moment. For some reason it sounds like You'll Never Walk Alone. The more it plays, of course, I realise it is exactly that. What were hints have now turned into the instantly recognisable melody. The writing credits include Rogers and Hammerstein, credited for the obvious lift.

When You Leave is a slow, fifties-influenced, smoky jazzy number, like something from Frank Sinatra's sombre, late night, feeling sorry for himself period. It is enhanced by some lovely, evocative jazzy saxophone. Good On You Son is more typical of Knopfler's early solo work. It tells of someone who has emigrated to Los Angeles as far as I can tell, although parts of the lyrics are somewhat inscrutable. It has some great Young Americans-influenced saxophone and an intoxicating, relatively upbeat (for Knopfler) rhythm. My Bacon Roll is one of those atmospheric, nostalgic Knopfler songs. The song appears to be reminiscing about "team building" exercises in some job or other and also a selection of traditional cafe breakfast fare. Knopfler has such a knack with quirky, beguiling songs like this. Laconic, wry and gently witty at times.

 

Nobody Does That that sees old Mark getting the funk, with some punchy kick posterior horns and some funky guitar and saxophone. Drovers Road has some Brothers In Arms-style guitar and a folky feel to it, with subtle Northumbrian pipes in the background. It is another marvellously atmospheric number.

One Song At A Time is a lengthy, subtly rhythmic shuffler of a song that tells of Knopfler's days in DeptfordSouth London in the old Sultans Of Swing days of 1979. Floating Away is musically beautiful and Knopfler's sleepy voice certainly suits the "floating away" title. Some entrancing guitar on this one too. As with all his lyrics, you just feel Knopfler is a man with a lot of wisdom, a lot of world-weary head-shaking as he watches everything floating away. He is also a man with a lot of sensitivity, as the tender Slow Learner exemplifies. He tells of how he likes to take things slow, and sings at a suitably languid walking pace over a drowsy jazzy background.

Just when you think it is all getting a bit somnolent Mark gives us a bit of jaunty, Caribbean-style rhythm on the appealing Heavy Up. Good old Mark, though, he still sounds groggy despite the lively beat. It has some excellent Rico Rodriguez-style trombone at the end. Every Heart Is In The Room closes the non-"deluxe" version of the album slowly and soulfully.  On the bonus track, Rear View Mirror, Mark goes all Van Morrison/Georgie Fame on a lively, Hammond organ-driven slice of jazzy fun. Matchstick Man is an emotional ballad about gigging far from home in Penzance.

It is a moving, thoughtful, at times uplifting, at times sorrowful and reflective album. If you like Mark Knopfler you will love it, of course. I am probably writing to the converted but I can find no reason for anyone to be disappointed.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------