- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Mark Knopfler
Get Lucky
Reprise Records

There is a familiar mellowness to Mark Knopfler’s sixth solo studio album. The former Dire Straits frontman injects an easygoing, campfire vibe into the 11 songs on “Get Lucky.” The lyrics are relentlessly elegiac — a mode that suits Mr. Knopfler’s careworn voice. Prematurely gruff during his 1980s heyday, his husky baritone reflects authentic gravitas at this point in the 60-year-old rocker’s career.

The work strikes me as the British analog of the late-career albums Rick Rubin produced for Johnny Cash — a conscious effort to create an ageless sound. Throughout “Get Lucky,” Mr. Knopfler draws on Celtic music traditions for melodic inspiration. The strains of flute, fiddle and whistle that characterize the genre do not fall gently on every ear. Those listeners who (like myself) know the form from “Riverdance” TV specials and the “Lord of the Rings” soundtracks may not fully appreciate the subtleties of Mr. Knopfler’s approach or the work of the obviously skilled players.

Fans of Mr. Knopfler’s gorgeous guitar work needn’t worry. His signature finger-picking style is on display throughout — and it’s even more distinctive and recognizable than his singing voice. However, unlike on his Dire Straits work, the guitar is a supporting voice — one among many. At times, as on “Before Gas and TV,” Mr. Knopfler blends electric guitar where a traditional air might have a bagpipe. Elsewhere, as on the plaintive and beautiful “Piper to the End,” the electric guitar sounds alien and mysterious, just audible under strings and accordion.

As is the case with the traditional music that informs “Get Lucky,” the lyrics can veer toward the maudlin. But this tendency is balanced by Mr. Knopfler’s likelihood to sing in character. “Remembrance Day” is an old soldier’s memoir that is pushed to the point of cliche by the unfortunate inclusion of a chorus sung by children but is ultimately rescued with some of the rich, twangy guitar Dire Straits fans will remember from “Sultans of Swing.”

The album’s one straight rock ‘n’ roll track, “You Can’t Beat the House,” is about as old-fashioned as it gets, with a simple boogie-woogie rhythm guitar, a slick Chuck Berry-style solo and rollicking piano trills.

Mr. Knopfler lays the whistle and flute on a bit thick on “Border Reiver,” the opening track. At the same time, there’s a wonderful particularity to the lyrics, sung from the point of view of the driver of an Albion lorry. The chorus, “Sure as the sunrise,” apparently was a company motto — one that must have impressed itself on Mr. Knopfler as a boy.

This sort of sentimental journey may not win Mr. Knopfler many new fans, but that doesn’t appear to be his intention. With “Get Lucky,” those who have stuck with him faithfully throughout his solo career can enjoy a favorite artist who, unencumbered by commercial concerns, is unabashedly looking to share a piece of himself with his audience.

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