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All-Reviews.com Music Review
Sailing to Philadelphia

music reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4

All-Reviews.com Music Review: Sailing to Philadelphia

Artist: Mark Knopfler
Genre: Rock/Pop
Release Date: September 2000


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.

10000031

 


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