Mark Knopfler has settled into an effortless groove in his solo work particularly in the Dylanesque roots of 2012’s marvellous double album “Privateering”. It mixed in a diversity of themes that also drew upon Celtic folk, Americana and more traditional country. Clearly with this solid track record those expecting “Mark Knopfler does Death Metal” will always wait in vain. Indeed “Tracker” is Knopfler at his reliable best, recording songs of quality and class but infusing them with a personal overview that gives the album a nice reflective flavour. As Knopfler explains “The album title ‘Tracker’ arrived out of me trying to find my way over the decades, out of me tracking time – looking at people, places and things from my past, and out of the process of tracking as in recording tracks in the studio.”
It starts with “Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smokes” a song that sounds like Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” in its opening bars until a clear Celtic tinge enters. It sees Knopfler reminiscing about his early years and the band have a high old time in the background sing-along. The meditative song “Basil” centres on the grumpy poet Basil Bunting who Mark met when he worked as a copy boy at the Evening Chronicle in Newcastle. It wistfully captures a certain era in the old days of provincial newspapers “Basil sits there on the table for subs/But not a part of the Bri-nylon club/Ancient blue sweater, too old for the job/Bored out of his mind/With the Colins and Bobs”. Another song on the album is dedicated to the late Dame Beryl Bainbridge one of our greatest writers in recent years. It is undoubtedly the most Dire Straits sounding song that Knopfler has recorded since the band ceased recording and will delight fans.
A couple of songs are nice enough but don't really spark. The breezy “Skydiver” ambles along but never really ignites. Similarly “Broken Bones” is pure J.J. Cale echoing “Cajun Moon” which is fine but you might as well seek out the real thing. Much better is the superb concluding duet “Wherever I Go” featuring Ruth Moody of the Wailin’ Jennys whose warm angelic voice perfectly complements the Knopfler “growl” creating an album standout. Along the way “Long cool girl” also impresses; rolling along steadily, in no hurry but full of Knopfler’s atmospheric guitar work. The gorgeous ballad “Silver Eagle” is plain wonderful, whilst “Lights of Taomina” reminds this reviewer of a slowed down version of Dylan’s “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” which can only be a good thing.
“Privateering” was always going to be a hard act to follow and “Tracker” doesn't quite hit those heights. Of the 4 extra tracks on the deluxe edition the melancholy acoustics of “My heart never changed” fails to set the pulses racing, alternatively the banjo driven “38 Special” is great fun. The slight “Heart of Oak” is a gentle ballad although it is the excellent understated “Terminal of tribute to” that begs the question why wasn't it included in the main body of the album? As a package “Tracker” sees no diminution in Knopfler’s ability to conjure up a set of songs that will happily repay repeated listens and which will grow in stature every time. A fine album.
Review by Red on Black