Knopfler, “Privateering” BISS List Review (10.18.12)

by BISS Contributing Editor, Josh Danson

The recently released, Privateering, is Mark Knopfler’s eighth solo album and his first double album in a recording career spanning 35 years. If you’re looking for a Dire Straits album, this is not it (other than the album’s first track, “Corned Beef City,” there is very little of the characteristic electric guitar sound from earlier in Knopfler’s career). What it is, however, is a warm and generous compendium of songs representing folk idioms from both sides of the Atlantic. Reminiscent of later solo albums by Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan, such as Shady Grove and Good as I Been to You, respectively, Privateering borrows heavily from the song-forms and traditions of the past. Where Privateering differs from those albums is that all the songs on this album are Knopfler-penned originals. The 20 tracks that make up the double album weave together threads of Americana, Blues, Celtic and Maritime music to create a unique and thoroughly enjoyable musical tapestry.

Knopfler, born in Scotland and raised in the north of England, sings convincingly in the Scotch-Irish ballad style on songs like “Redbud Tree,” but also manages to sound authentic on the Muddy Waters-influenced blues of “Got to Have Something”. It doesn't hurt that Knopfler’s voice remains one of the warmest and most distinctive baritone’s in the business. It also doesn’t hurt that he has enlisted great complimentary musicians such as Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds on harmonica, and Ruth Moody of the Wailin’ Jenny’s on vocals, to go along with his established transatlantic crew of hired hands. This is not Knopfler’s first solo album to span the Atlantic in style and subject -- his 2002 solo effort, The Ragpickers Dream, covered some similar territory -- but this album more fully fleshes out these themes and allows him a longer rumination on the various connecting threads and divergent seams. While the various directions the album takes from song to song sometimes threaten to pull it apart, the recurring musical styles and lyrical elements somehow manage to stitch it all together.

From the rain that still binds the two estranging lovers in the hauntingly beautiful, “Seattle,” to the swampy bayou blues of “Gator Blood,” to the briny grave that is the subject’s final resting place in “Dream of the Drowned Submariner,” Privateering is an album that is, in the words of author Norman McClean, haunted by waters. It also stands as a testament to Knopfler’s perfected songwriting talents and overall musical abilities. This album would make a great road trip listen (I’m planning to take it on my next fishing trip), or would be perfect for a rainy Sunday at home with the one you love.

Musician Credits:Mark Knopfler (vocals, electric, slide and acoustic guitars), Richard Bennett (guitars, bouzouki and tiple),Jim Cox (piano and organ), Guy Fletcher (keyboards and vocals), John McCusker (fiddle and cittern), Mike McGoldrick (whistles and uilleann pipes), Phil Cunningham (accordion), Glenn Worf (upright and electric bass), Ian Thomas (drums), Kim Wilson (harmonica), Tim O’Brien (mandolin and vocals), Paul Franklin (pedal steel), Ruth Moody (vocals), Rupert Gregson-Williams (vocals), Chris Botti (trumpet),Nigel Hitchcock (saxophone), John Charnec (clarinet)