Nov 6, 201204:28 PMThe Telegraph
The Premier Blog of the West
Album Review: Mark Knopfler's 'Privateering'
In 1990 Dire Straits frontman and guitarist Mark Knopfler started a side project that had people scratching their heads. The Notting Hillbillies’ Missing… Presumed Having a Good Time was the first (and only) record by the group. A collection of traditional folk songs and country blues punctuated by a quiet and soulful performance from the hard-rocking Knopfler, the record both delighted and puzzled critics and fans. Was it blues? Folk? Bluegrass? Country? Nobody could say, but everyone agreed it was good.
Privateering is Knopfler’s seventh solo album since Dire Straits disbanded in 1995, and much like Missing, the album is heavily influenced by roots and blues. After a few listens, it doesn’t take much to see how several of the songs on Privateering would have fit right in a hundred years ago.
Knopfler is really good at invoking history rather than imitating it. Whether it’s electric blues on “Bluebird,” or English seafaring songs on “Kingdom of Gold,” he’s a master at creating a kind of sonic time warp, one that melds modern sounds with traditional vibes.
Occasionally his lyrics veer a bit too far into the maudlin (“Dream of the Drowned Submariner”) or just get plain silly (“Corned Beef City”), but that serves to underscore the fact that on this record he’s mostly doing what he wants to, not what a producer is asking of him. Knopfler’s vocals are rich and velvety enough to carry much of the record without the use of backup singers, and it’s nice to hear him vamp it up a little bit over his slide guitar.
One trademark Knopfler characteristic we’re glad to hear again is the impeccable production values he manages to achieve on all of his recordings. Privateering is a terrific example of how to get it right without resorting to over-processed effects or trendy tricks.
Anyone who enjoyed Knopfler’s collaboration with Emmylou Harris on 2010’s All The Roadrunning may be disappointed at the lack of both vocal harmonies and country styles on Privateering, but there’s still plenty to like on this record. The simple instrumentation and subtle mixing (witness a steel guitar improve an otherwise forgettable track on “Gator Blood”) gives the whole thing a cinematic quality and helps make it one of the more interesting things we’ve heard all year.