There is always a beauty that accompanies a Mark Knopfler album. It is the beauty of sound with a grace that can only materialize by the artist and the producer caring enough to take the time to use the proper personnel, instruments, and recording studio gear to record each song.
To my ears (and heart) TRACKER is one of the most beautiful albums Mark Knopfler has ever made. His songs and story telling only get better as the years roll on. On this album he reminds me a bit of Gordon Lightfoot, one of the greatest storytellers of all time. Consider this lyric, “…and I’m lookin’ in the mirror at the face that I deserve.” That kind of thing is on the level of Springsteen’s best. And on TRACKER Knopfler lets the songs take center stage as he lays back a bit on the guitar.
On a Mark Knopfler album, subtlety reigns—it’s so good it makes it plain for all of us to see how subtlety, in and of itself, can be a true art form–how lovely that someone has not forgotten. The sound and mixes on this album are not “old school” my friends, they are THE SCHOOL.
Using tape and old gear mixed with the best of the new, there is such a magic here that it ought to be studied by more of today’s producers and engineers who keep trying to outdo one another by mixing a lot of current music like solid bricks of sound with absolutely no dynamics–all for the sake of those quickly fading, out-of-date, little white ear buds–yuck! On a Mark Knopfler album the songs go straight to your heart because the sound is recorded properly for your human ears to receive, recognize, and cherish. Yep folks, your ears hear in analogue by sound waves—we don’t have digital chips in our brains (yet!).
But again, beyond all the selecting of proper guitars and microphones, you have to have great songs and a special voice to deliver those. Somehow, Mark Knopfler keeps writing great stories and delivering albums, each with a particular mood that invites you to listen all the way through.
Yes, the “album” is not dead and Mark Knopfler is one of a few who continue to raise that flag very high.
And talk about his guitar playing, here is a fascinating story by David Gilmour about just how good Mark is and some insight into how much a player’s style is, indeed, the face of his sound.
On my last trip to England we were discussing players we admired and their unique guitar sounds. David told me that his signature sound had developed over years but that a lot of it had to do with his particular style of playing and not so much the gear. Being a player myself (and one that was lucky enough to play along side him for a song in his band—yeah, that one!) I told him I totally understood yet if you go onto the Internet there are plenty of blogs that tell you, “How to sound like David Gilmour.” He laughed and I told him that being a fan of his sound I had gone out, bought the appropriate foot pedals (tube screamer and delay, etc.), set the volume, tone, drive, and mix controls as instructed, yet somehow I didn’t sound like David Gilmour! Of course, we both had a good laugh at that one, and to expound on the point he went on to tell me a great story about himself and Knopfler, and just how much of one’s sound is, indeed, really up to the fingers, and style of each particular player.
David was doing a gig somewhere for a charity and there were a number of musicians invited. He had brought all his gear, which you can imagine is quite sophisticated and designed to give him that signature Pink Floyd sound (most professional guitar players have their unique rigs built to achieve this for their live performances).
Well, Knopfler had showed up for the show with only his guitar and asked David if he could borrow his rig and amps to play out of. David said, of course but sat with his guitar tech, Phil Taylor, watching as both worried that Knopfler couldn’t help but sound like David Gilmour/Pink Floyd, and how weird that might be.
But low and behold, as Mark started to play, somehow he sounded exactly like Mark Knopfler! Both David and Phil were flabbergasted—“how is he doing that??!!” As time went on they began to see how so much of Knopfler’s sound is, indeed, in his fingers and in his unique finger picking style.
Our discussion about players and their sounds came full circle, as this incident had proven once and for all, that while the gear can help enhance one’s style and sound, the true personality of the player overrides all by the art form that each player brings to the instrument with their fingers.
Mark Knopfler is bringing it on this album, and if you are a fan like me, you will definitely want to add TRACKER to your music collection!
All the best,
© Paul Rappaport 2015