Album Reviews

Mark Knopfler – One Deep River

(British Grove/EMI) UK release date: 12 April 2024

Anyone who’s missed the sound of the sometime Dire Straits man expertly working the fretboard will find much to love on his first new album in six years

Mark Knopfler - One Big River Think of the biggest musical artists of the 1980s, and it’s a pretty safe bet who you’d choose. There’s Michael Jackson, of course. Madonna would have a pretty good shout. The genius of Prince would also be an obvious choice. Yet, nestling in amongst those names would be a band led by a quiet, unassuming Geordie never seen without a headband and a trusty Les Paul Standard guitar.

Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits were huge in the 1980s. Their 1985 album, Brothers In Arms, exemplified the CD generation, becoming the first album to sell a million copies in that format. Their film Alchemy was one of the most successful concert films of 1984, which was impressive, considering it consisted mainly of close-ups of Knopfler intensely performing long guitar solos. While they became somewhat unfairly derided as ‘coffee table dad rock’ music, it’s impossible to deny the quality of peak Dire Straits songs – Romeo & Juliet, Sultans Of Swing and Private Investigations still stand up today as examples of quality AOR.

A new solo album from Knopfler in 2024 still comes as a bit of a surprise though. His last solo project, Down The Road Wherever, was six years ago, and not exactly a highlight of his back catalogue. Frankly, it wouldn’t have been a massive shock to see him see out his retirement in the world of film scores and the like. That said, One Deep River will very much satisfy any long-term Knopfler fans. It’s full of beautifully crafted songs with that trademark guitar sound all over them. Knopfler is one of the few musicians who’s easily identifiable just by his playing style, as soon as the opening chords of Two Pairs Of Hands ring out, it feels like welcoming home an old friend.

That opening track, like much of the album, has a deliberately paced, rootsy feel to it – it’s fair to say that not many of the tracks on One Deep River rise above a mild trot, but the laid-back mood is all part of its charm. The problem is that when the pace does kick in though, as on the pleasingly bluesy Scavengers Yard, you wish Knopfler would do it a bit more often.

Watch Me Gone has a gorgeously reflective air to it, awash with pedal steel, and even sees old Knopfler contemporaries Bob Dylan and Van Morrison receive name-checks in the lyrics. The vocal interplay between Knopfler and his backing vocalists is slightly reminiscent of Leonard Cohen‘s latter-day recordings. There’s a wistful sense of melancholy draped all over Before My Train Comes, which sounds like a man peacefully coming to terms with his own mortality, and the closing One Deep River is a lovely tribute to Knopfler’s hometown of Newcastle and the River Tyne (the album cover is simply a photograph of the city’s Tyne Bridge).

The only issue with One Deep River is that the somewhat deliberate pacing can mean that some of the tracks on it can end up sounding a bit dull. While there’s no arguments with the quality of the craft on display, over the course of a 12 track album, you may find yourself nodding off sometimes. Yet there’s still a warm glow to this album, and anyone who’s missed the sound of Knopfler expertly working the fretboard, will find much to love on it.

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