Mark Knopfler – Privateering (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
FOR my money, Mark Knopfler’s best work remains that which he completed as part of Dire Straits with the likes of Brothers in Arms, Money For Nothing and Private Investigations.
His new double solo album Privateering comes close to hitting those heights on several occasions and is a highly recommended piece of work.
A collection of songs devoted to specific characters and their locations, it includes several new blues originals as well as Celtic folk-rock, straight-forward rock ‘n’ roll and mood-rock.
It’s also a star-studded affair given that in addition to his long-time band, Knopfler has also recruited the likes of Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds on harp, Tim O’Brien on mandolin, singer Ruth Moody of The Wailin’ Jennys, Paul Franklin on pedal steel and Scotland’s Phil Cunningham on accordion.
The mix of styles is underlined from the outset as the opening few tracks offer a diverse revelation of all of Knopfler’s current musical passions.
Album opener Redbud Tree is a brooding slow-burner that finds a man seeking shelter from life’s troubles. It’s delivered in a dusky, stripped back style and drops in a beguiling guitar solo that is vaguely reminiscent of the one on Brothers in Arms. It’s a masterful start.
Conversely, Haul Away employs a more Celtic sound to relay its bittersweet tale of sailors, while Don’t Forget Your Hat is a down and dirty blues number that’s built around playful piano chords, grungy guitar riffs, the odd bit of slide and a husky Knopfler vocal. It’s one to delight the blues hounds.
Title track Privateering cleverly combines the sound of the Deep South with something more European to deliver its giddy tale of hard-drinking workmen journeying to find work, while Miss You Blues has a dusky romanticism about it that also possesses something vaguely cinematic.
But another of the album favourites comes from the rousing rock of Corned Beef City, another moment that harks back to the Dire Straits days (and Money For Nothing?) as it recalls its everyman tale of a white van man searching for work. It’s a moment where Knopfler enjoyably rolls back the years.
A highlight, too, is Go, Love and another of the album’s dusky, stripped back ballads that recalls a tale of ending romance. It’s achingly poignant and sad, while the guitar work, again, recalls the sombre beauty of Brothers in Arms.
Elsewhere on the first CD, there’s more blues from Hot Or What, a Leonard Cohen-esque speak-sung track in Yon Two Crows and more wistful downbeat balladry on Seattle, a somewhat downbeat tale of broken love featuring Ruth Moody.
Anyone expecting a pronounced change of style or pace on disc two may be disappointed to find that the album offers more of the same. But Kingdom of Gold offers a hard-working tale with a Celtic backdrop and underlines the strength of feeling and emotion in Knopfler’s song-writing.
There’s chugging blues, complete with foot-tapping beats and harmonica on Got To Have Something (a blues highlight), and again on the crowd-pleasing Gator Blood, a blues-soul vibe on the sumptuous Bluebird and both an intimacy and poignance on the low-key Dream of the Drowned Submariner.
Blood And Water, meanwhile, is a riveting tale of loss centred around a fractured community turned ghost town.
But even when chronicling moments of quiet despair, Knopfler is careful to keep songs relatable and not too downbeat, relying on subtlety to convey the album’s emotions.
And he knows not to leave you too downbeat, either, rounding the CD off with the playful blues-rock of After The Beanstalk, which is rife with plucked banjos, silly lyrics and delicious harmonica stabs. It leaves you with a smile on your face.
Hence, while Privateering may not quite be Knopfler’s solo masterpiece, it comes damn near close to it and should delight fans of both his more recent work and past triumphs with Dire Straits. It’s got a lot to offer and savour.
Download picks: Redbud Tree, Corned Beef City, Go, Love, Don’t Forget Your Hat, Got To Have Something, Gator Blood, Bluebird, After The Beanstalk, Dream of the Drowned Submariner
- Kingdom of Gold
- Got To Have Something
- Radio City Serenade
- I Used To Could
- Gator Blood
- Dream of the Drowned Submariner
- Blood And Water
- Today Is Okay
- After The Beanstalk