With everything Dire Straits tuning multi-platinum it was only natural that Mark Knofpler would seek to broaden his horizons and he delighted us with his debut soundtrack disc, the music for Local Hero. What a beginning to a solo life that is! The heady blend of Celtic music, folk, pip and jazz was the perfect accompaniment to Bill Forsyth’s much-loved movie. Joined by Gerry Rafferty and specialist sidemen the Local Hero soundtrack embodies the magical mood of this classic film and won him a BAFTA.
Having then produced albums for Bob Dylan and Aztec Camera, Mark’s next venture is Cal, an exceptionally lovely and haunting score that incorporates Dire Straits and again provides the ideal instrumental backdrop to an idyllic film. Comfort and Joy follows in the same year of 1984 with another suite set to a Bill Forsyth while The Princess Bride (1987) – for Rob Reiner’s quirkily romantic venture – is a significant example of classic British film-music in that era. The song ‘Storybook Love’, lyrics by Willy DeVille received an Academy Award nomination.
The five star music for Last Exit to Brooklyn (1989) is fully orchestrated bliss, ambitious and memorable from intro to finale. After this Mark will take a sojourn with his side trip, The Notting Hillbillies, recharge his creative batteries and return fully juiced and primed for a Nashville dream ticket with Chet Atkins – Neck and Neck and a well-deserved compilation called Screenplaying that cherry picks his magnificent compositions thus far.
Oddly it isn’t until 1996 that he releases what one might call his debut solo disc. It proves to be worth the wait because Golden Heart will conquer charts worldwide as the man himself recovers from the decision to end Dire Straits for the time being following a gruelling 15-month world tour to support their On Every Street album. Two years in preparation this disc evidently does the trick for our hero because he’s soon back on the road to support his new role. Guest players are of the highest calibre, to be expected really, and include American legends like Paul Franklin (pedal steel guitar), Don Potter’s acoustic and Sonny Landreth’s National Steel. Now one can hear all that fusion of folk and US roots bubbling forth and it’s a heady brew that veers from pure country to the most exact traditional fare.
The deeply sardonic Wag the Dog movie finds Knopfler back in movie guise, concocting smart bedrock for Barry Levinson’s highly acclaimed political satire. Still using the ensemble he refers to as the 96-ers, Mark’s Metroland (for Philip Saville’s evocative flic) is a gorgeous confection of original songs that transport the listener from 1930s Paris to a near-contemporary London. To that end he tackles pieces by his beloved Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club de France. ‘Sultans of Swing’ crops up, as do borrowed tracks from Elvis Costello, Francoise Hardy and The Stranglers that help complete an authentic masterpiece.
Consistency is a valuable commodity in this man’s work and his relationship with producer Chuck Ainlay is never better felt than on his second solo album, the silky Sailing to Philadelphia. This heartily recommended disc from the year 2000 features such guests as Van Morrison, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, and the brass expertise of Jim Horn and Wayne Jackson. The title track itself is a duet with James Taylor that sets the scene on songs inspired by Thomas Pynchon’s novel Mason & Dixon, the two men who effectively created an imaginary border between the North and South divide in the USA.
A Shot at Glory and The Ragpicker’s Dream (both 2002) continue to mine Knopfler’s own political concerns. It’s significant that he always chooses to add his musical tone to films he’s comfortable with and then he graces those dark room experiences with shuffles, honky tonk, ballads and often tense and taut pieces that enrich the audience’s appreciation even without them knowing – the consummate skill of the soundtracker.
Shangri-La (2004) is now Mark’s fourth solo outing. It includes the beautiful and elegiac ‘The Trawlerman’s Song’ and songs that refer to a bad motorcycle accident he’d suffered before recording took place. Even so this is a joyous and pleasantly skew-whiff set that mixes tracks such as ‘Boom, Like That’ inspired by the founder of McDonald’s, the entrepreneur Ray Kroc, with cleverly nostalgic items like ‘Song for Sonny Liston’, ‘Back to Tupelo’ and ‘Donegan’s Gone’ wherein country abuts skiffle and the listener is transported to a delightful place. An abridged version of this album comes with ‘The Trawlerman’s Song’: EP (2005) which combines the title piece with live in the studio versions of other favourites recorded in one take at Shangri-La Studios, Malibu.
The Private Investigations: Best Of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler is branded to suit all parties before we come to a very important release indeed - All the Roadrunning (2006) a dual effort between mark and the legendary Emmylou Harris. The result of a long-time collaboration between the pair, this is a seven years in the making extravaganza that includes rich and mature work from both artists with an exemplary country cast and some of MK’s finest song writing to date in the shape of ‘I Dug Up a Diamond’, ‘Beyond My Wildest Dreams’ and the title cut. Emmylou offers ‘Belle Starr’ and ‘Love and Happiness’ and the whole thing is just that.
By contrast there is a darker edge to Kill to Get Crimson, whose noir-esque title recalls a period in English history, the late 1950s, when time seemed to stand still between the austerity of the recent war and the imminent explosion of youth culture. Another very desirable disc that we’re discovering ourselves with renewed satisfaction.
Get Lucky (2006) – dif that Anglo-American teenage title - contains phenomenal songwriting and fresh insights into other chunks of life and seems to make the transition from the previous monochromatic 50s to the more garish colours of the 1960s, though not really the Swinging type of Sixties. Knopfler recalls some early youth in Glasgow and the North East and entertains with songs about gambling, poverty and British roots in general. Remarkable stuff.
So we come full circle to the most recent Privateering whose twenty original songs are wrapped around a meticulously clean and seductive sound that was completed just after a tour supporting Bob Dylan. Available as a Deluxe Version this is a recording that already sounds indispensable, as fine a slab of work as Mark Knopfler has ever produced – and he actually did this time. Superbly intricate folk playing, unleashed rhythms and rock and roll music that’s as comfortable ass a favourite pair of jeans make for a thoroughly engaging whole with stellar support from harmonica man Kim Wilson (Fabulous Thunderbirds) and the ever-present A-team of Guy Fletcher, Richard Bennett and Chuck Ainlay. This one’s an epic.
A modern master with an ear for the past and a driven itch to stay contemporary – that is Mark Knopfler. One of the finest guitarists of his time, or of all time, an incredibly underrated songwriter and a singer with emotional depth, he is a true artist. Any and all of the above albums are recommended and as you may already be aware the man’s repertoire is an addictive experience. Enjoy.
Words: Max Bell
All the Roadrunning is a collaborative album by British singer-songwriter and guitarist Mark Knopfler and American singer-songerwriter Emmylou Harris, released on 24 April 2006 by Mercury Records and Universal Music internationally, and by Warner Bros. Records in the United States. The album reached the number one position on album charts in Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland. The album peaked at number eight in the United Kingdom, and number 17 on the Billboard 200 in the United States.
Local Hero is the début soundtrack album by British singer-songwriter and guitarist Mark Knopfler, released in March 1983 by Vertigo Records internationally, and by Warner Bros. Records in the United States. The album contains music composed for the 1983 film Local Hero, produced by David Puttnam and written and directed by Bill Forsyth. In 1984, the album received a BAFTA award nomination for Best Score for a Film.
Privateering is the seventh solo album by British singer-songwriter and guitarist Mark Knopfler, released on 3 September 2012 by Mercury Records. The first studio double-album of Knopfler's 35-year career as a recording artist, Privateering consists of twenty original songs, and integrates meticulously crafted blues rock with traditional folk and country genres.
Sailing to Philadelphia is the second solo album by British singer-songwriter and guitarist Mark Knopfler, released on 26 September 2000 by Vertigo Records internationally, and by Warner Bros. Records in the United States. The album contains featured vocal performances by James Taylor and Van Morrison.
Private Investigations: The Best of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler is a compilation album by Dire Straits and British singer-songwriter and guitarist Mark Knopfler, released in 2005 by Mercury and Vertigo internationally, and Warner Bros. in the United States. Named after their 1982 hit single, the album consists of material by Dire Straits, with songs selected from the group's six studio albums (excluding the 1979 album Communiqué) from 1978 up through the group's dissolution in 1995. It also features work from the solo career of the group's singer, songwriter, and guitarist Mark Knopfler, including some of his soundtrack material.
A Shot at Glory is a soundtrack album by British singer-songwriter and guitarist Mark Knopfler, released on 28 April 2002 by Mercury Records. The album contains music composed for the 2001 film A Shot at Glory, directed by Michael Corrente.
The Ragpicker's Dream is the third solo album by British singer-songwriter and guitarist Mark Knopfler, released on 30 September 2002 by Mercury Records internationally, and by Warner Bros. Records in the United States.
Get Lucky is the sixth solo album by British singer-songwriter and guitarist Mark Knopfler, released on 14 September 2009. The album was released in four formats, including CD, a Limited Edition CD/DVD Digipak, a Deluxe Edition Boxset, and a double vinyl album. Get Lucky received reached the top three positions on album charts in Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland.
Kill to Get Crimson is the fifth solo album by British singer-songwriter and guitarist Mark Knopfler, released on 17 September 2007 by Mercury Records. The album's title comes from a line in the song "Let It All Go". The album cover image is taken from the painting Four Lambrettas and Three Portraits of Janet Churchman by John Bratby, painted in 1958. The first singles from the album were "True Love Will Never Fade" in Europe, and "Punish The Monkey" in North America.
Wag the Dog is a soundtrack album by British singer-songwriter and guitarist Mark Knopfler, released on 13 January 1998. The album contains music composed for the 1997 film Wag the Dog, directed by Barry Levinson. The film featured songs created for the fictitious campaign waged by the protagonists, including "Good Old Shoe", "The American Dream", and "The Men of the 303". These songs appear on the soundtrack album as instrumental tracks. Only the title track contains vocals.