Review by LarryG|
3 stars out of 4
Since the huge success of Dire Straits' 1985 Brothers In Arms
record and its hit Money For Nothing, Mark Knopfler's career has
seemed a little unfocused. On Every Street, Dire Straits' last studio
record, was pretty good. Knopfler put out a decent solo record, Golden
Heart, and he's continued to make good soundtrack music but Knopfler
hasn't come close to matching the quality of Dire Straits' great
pre-Brothers In Arms work: Love Over Gold and Making Movies. Sailing
To Philadelphia is a good return to form. Sailing To Philadelphia
largely avoids On Every Street's tension between gimmicky, commercial
songs and serious work. It's the work of a man who's now in his 50's
and is a little more reflective. Sailing To Philadelphia has a nice,
easy charm and is a good showcase for one of the great musicians.
Sailing To Philadelphia starts with What It Is, one of the best
things Knopfler's ever done. What It Is is more detached and less edgy
than the music on Making Movies but it has the vivid imagery and
energy of songs from that record like Tunnel Of Love. Knopfler
affectionately observes a Scottish town troubled by too much drink and
tales of ghosts, finding, "everybody's looking for somebody's arms to
fall into." Knopfler's unassuming voice fluidly races through the
song. His guitar playing is so unshowy and smooth that you almost miss
how fast it is, working with Aubrey Haynie's violin to create a great
texture. The rest of Sailing To Philadelphia doesn't reach What It Is'
brilliance but it's almost always likable and well played. Who's Your
Baby Now is an early Beatles type rocker. The mellow, pleasant music
takes the sting out of Knopfler mocking someone who used to mock him
but has fallen on hard romantic times. Do America sounds like Walk Of
Life and is a little goofy but it conveys a rising musician's
exuberance as he contemplates his first trip across the Atlantic. Most
of Sailing To Philadelphia is quieter songs. They also work thanks to
good atmosphere and Knopfler's unshowy, real vocal. Wanderlust and
Prairie Wedding have appropriately spare guitar and organ. Prairie
Wedding has a powerful cinematic feel. Knopfler's understated vocal
suits his role as a decent Old West man quietly stunned by learning
the woman he only knew by letter is the angel of his dreams.
Silvertown Blues starts as a moody exploration. Cranes erecting the
Millennium Dome in a deserted part of London bring hope but also a
feeling that nothing will change. Silvertown Blues becomes an amiable
rocker, with harmonies by Squeeze's Difford and Tilbrook, though the
"down in Silvertown" chorus reminds me a little too much of Bruce
Springsteen's "down in Lucky Town."
Guest stars add nice touches to Sailing To Philadelphia. The best
is on The Last Laugh. The Last Laugh has a cool, restrained mood with
a good, modest Knopfler vocal and evocative horns. Van Morrison takes
it to an even higher level. He practically says "step aside", taking
over with his easy soulfulness but staying within the song's
melancholy mood. James Taylor's serious, sincere voice is well used
for the title track's tale of characters from Thomas Pynchon's book,
who will eventually draw the Mason-Dixon line, sharing their hopes and
fears as they leave the north of England for a life in the new world.
The quiet music(pedal steel, piano and Knopfler's guitar) is
appropriately dreamlike. Gillian Welch's own traditional music can be
too studied and showily authentic but her classic vocal style is well
used on Speedway At Nazareth, a nicely unembellished country rocker.
After a while the austere drums and violin segue into a fairly typical
Knopfler guitar fadeout but as on the entire CD, Knopfler's impressive
playing still fits the song.
Sailing To Philadelphia falls flat only when Knopfler tries to be
too meaningful. Baloney Again is a well intentioned, bluesy tale of a
group struggling to survive as they travel the country singing "to
praise the Lord." El Macho, the story of a down on his luck wanna be
tv actor, has a good, gritty atmosphere from percussion and a flugel
horn. Neither really go anywhere after making their initial point. The
very stark Sands Of Nevada's story of the cost of a gambling addiction
isn't very illuminating. Junkie Doll is pretty standard blues rock.
Generally, Sailing To Philadelphia is a very enjoyable CD.
Knopfler comes across as a very decent man. His songs, often set in
simpler times or in a simple contemporary settings, are very likable.
The music is quite unassuming but it's almost always tuneful with nice
touches and great, subtle guitar playing by a master. The lyrics and
music are understated and full of detail, communicating their
uncomplicated but rich stories.