Friday, December 21, 2007

Never Too Much of a Good Thing

Mark Knopfler
Mercury records


I've been so taken with Mark Knopfler's latest, Kill to Get Crimson, that I decided to get the album previous to this one, Shangri-La.

Dating from 2004, it's in the same vein as Crimson, with very basic acoustic instrumentation and juicy, well-placed guitar phrasing (which reminds me of Count Basie in its fabulous economy). Knopfler himself mumbles his way endearingly thru the set, sounding like your local auto mechanic with a magnificent spark of talent that you'd likely miss if you didn't look closely.

His guitar playing is kind of everywhere and nowhere at once. Video footage has him often playing unaccompanied or with just a trio, which is always a challenge for an instrumentalist, but especially so for one with a quiet or sparse style. But he steps deftly into the spaces between his sung phrases, and there is a little harmonic movement that moves like a stream beneath the songs as they pass. Obviously, the studio album fattens the sound with additional musicians--Jim Cox's drumming and Chad Cromwell's Hammond B-3 seem especially tasty (of course)--but it's really Knopfler's guitar that holds the place of honor at the exhibition's center.

I'm especially taken with Song for Sonny Liston, both for its relentless, plodding gait (if this groove doesn't make you want to move something is broken) and for its eloquent exposé of a man of whom I'd scarcely heard before. But the whole album is atmospheric and devoid of artifice. In addition to Cox and Cromwell, he's joined by Richard Bennett on guitar, Guy Fletcher on keys, Glenn Worf on bass and Paul Franklin on pedal steel guitar.

Here's a bit of Sonny Liston from YouTube:


shrimplate said...

Talk about eclectic. Your ears remind me of those of some of the people I hung out with back in my college radio days. No format.

You've hit upon a key element of Knopfler's style: economy. Though very different from George Harrison or Bill Frisell for example, he shares with them a sense of well-chosen-ness for each note.

That is something I've always admired, no matter the genre of the musician.

wunelle said...

I agree. I listened as a teenager to Buddy Rich and Oscar Peterson--both people I greatly admire today (r.i.p. Oscar)--but as I've aged I've come to think that less can be more. That well-chosen-ness is a taste we must work to acquire. Me, anyway.