Mark Knopfler’s ‘Studio Albums 2009–2018’: Review

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Former Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler’s The Studio Albums 1996–2007, which came out in spring 2021, delivered remastered copies of his first five solo LPs (not counting film soundtracks), plus a disc with B-sides. Now comes a sequel: The Studio Albums 2009–2018, a box that includes remastered versions of Knopfler’s next four solo releases (again excepting soundtracks): Get Lucky (from 2009), the two-disc Privateering (2012), Tracker (2015) and Down the Road Wherever (2018). The 2022 set, which is available on six CDs or nine vinyl LPs, also includes 23 noteworthy B-sides and other bonus tracks, among them two previously unreleased numbers: the jazzy “Back in the Day” and the sweet, midtempo “Precious Voices from Heaven.”

Mark Knopfler 2021 via his Facebook page

Like the earlier box, this one offers little of Knopfler’s head-turning rock guitar pyrotechnics, which was a Dire Straits trademark. That’s not to say that you won’t hear wonderful guitar work here, but it tends to be relatively understated on these albums, where it shares center stage with his warm baritone and accompanists who play such instruments as clarinet, flute, pennywhistle, uilleann pipes, fiddle and cittern (a stringed instrument similar to a lute). As on his earlier albums, Knopfler offers a preponderance of character sketches and story songs, many told in the first person. The subject matter and musical approaches are all over the place, but the albums nevertheless feel cohesive and the performances are consistently first-rate.

Related: Our Album Rewind of Dire Straits’ debut 

Get Lucky opens with the sprightly “Border Reiver,” the tale of a truck driver heading south from Glasgow, Scotland, and one of many songs here that evidence Celtic and Irish influences.

Other highlights include the sweet “Monteleone,” which is gentle and dreamy enough to pass for a lullaby, and the nostalgic “Before Gas and TV.” Like many double albums, the ambitious Privateering could probably have benefited from a little trimming, but cutting enough to fit this release onto a single disc wouldn’t have been easy. The elegantly structured “Dream of the Drowned Submariner,” which includes nods to classical music, is just one of many standouts.

Tracker is loaded with highlights as well. “River Towns,” a first-person tale of an apparent alcoholic living in a flophouse, features trumpet as well as sax by Nigel Hitchcock that’s as evocative as anything from Clarence Clemons. Another high point is “Mighty Man” (one of several tracks to feature guest vocals by the Wailin’ Jennys’ Ruth Moody), which limns a drifter who spent “a lifetime of digging trenches in the cold and wet weather” and tells his son “I was best off away.” Down the Road Wherever, the last release in this anthology, pulls its title from a line in “One Song at a Time,” a seemingly autobiographical tale in which Knopfler sings that “it’s 1979 and I’m picking my way out of here, one song at a time.” And so he did, thanks to the abundant talent that’s evident throughout this terrific box.

Jeff Burger

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