Mark Knopfler will always be known as the lead guitarist and songwriter for British rock band Dire Straits, but his solo work since that band disbanded in 1995 means he should be remembered for a lot more than just that. Privateering is Knopfler’s seventh solo effort – discounting side projects and his work on several soundtracks – and it only goes to show how prolific he has been since his old band met its demise.
In fact, it is a credit to Knopfler that after 35 years in the music business he is still releasing material of such high quality. Privateering may be a double album but it doesn’t fall into the trap that many other double LPs stumble into. There is rarely a lull or a track that feels out of place over the 20 songs, which see Knopfler capture the sound of Americana.
The first disc kicks off with the beautiful Redbud Tree, a song which demonstrates Knopfler’s majestic guitar skills, while that ever-recognisable voice provides a soothing accompaniment. Don’t Forget Your Hat, is rooted in country blues, with a gnarly, chugging guitar riff and a shuffling piano melody bouncing along for the duration. It’s really an album that you can get lost in on a warm summer’s day, with woozy numbers like Miss You Blues, Go, Love and Yon Two Crows demonstrating Knopfler’s comfort with the rootsy sound.
Corned Beef City is one of the few tracks on the first disc with some grit, compared to what is generally a relaxing stroll through the hazy sounds of America’s rich musical heritage. Despite the variety it offers it is also one of the weaker tracks here, with all too forgettable lyrics. The first disc finishes with the nostalgic and sweeping Seattle, a track that loosely captures the rough theme of hitting the open road – something emphasised by the battered van that adorns the album’s cover art.
Disc two is similar, but at no point do Knopfler’s world-weary vocals and fine guitar picking become tiresome. Kingdom Of Gold opens proceedings with melodramatic and swirling strings, as Knopfler sings: “He turns to his symbols, his ribbons of numbers / they circle and spin on their mystical scroll.” The mesmerising and meandering Radio City Serenade is another highlight, while the bluesy Gator Blood will have you tapping away at its infectious riff and repetitive beat.
Elsewhere, Dream Of The Drowned Submariner is a delicate, wandering beauty, bound to pull at the heart strings, while Today Is Okay sees Knopfler flex his guitar skills on a song that epitomises everything that makes Privateering such an enjoyable listen. It’s playful and deeply rooted in the American rhythm and blues soundscape, something that Knopfler appears to be at ease with throughout the album.
Knopfler’s seventh studio album delivers two discs of songs that will take you back to when everything sounded less artificial. Privateering is arguably Knopfler’s strongest solo effort and one which shows off his ability as a guitarist, a vocalist and a songwriter. It’s a testament to his talent that he can pull off a double album with so few weaknesses and from this evidence, Knopfler has many more miles left in the tank.