Mark Knopfler: Sailing To Philadelphia

Mark Knopfler: Sailing To Philadelphia

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Mark Knopfler

Album: Sailing To Philadelphia
Label: Warner Bros.

The sticker affixed to the cover of Sailing To Philadelphia, the second solo album from Mark Knopfler, boasts "from the voice and guitar of Dire Straits." But the statement seems redundant: Knopfler's voice has always been his casually virtuoso guitar playing, and his gracefully picked leads remain some of the most distinct sounds in rock 'n' roll. Just a few scant seconds into the first track, "What It Is," the artist is readily apparent. Yet Knopfler appears glad to have coasted down a few clouds from the superstar stratosphere. The decision to drop the Dire Straits moniker in 1995 relieved him of the rock-star burden brought about by his massive mid-'80s success, and Sailing To Philadelphia finds Knopfler returning to the melancholy modesty of Dire Straits' 1978 debut, a return tempered only by the passage of time. In fact, Sailing To Philadelphia often sounds outright anachronistic, from the "Sultans Of Swing"-like "What It Is" to James Taylor's voice on the title track, yet it never comes across like another old English coot courting Baby Boomer record buyers. Knopfler's ability to keep his talents in check serves the music, which benefits from the simple structures and tiny (but significant) guitar flourishes. As for the journeyman lyrics of "Baloney Again," "Do America," and "Wanderlust," they allow his blue-collar affectations to show, even if the racecar narrative "Speedway At Nazareth" seems more personal. But no matter how identifiable his talents, Knopfler appears just as happy to fade into the woodwork, which might explain his impressive second career as a film composer, or his willingness to play second fiddle to Van Morrison on "Last Laugh." While Sailing To Philadelphia doesn't represent a radical reinvention, its subdued songs stand as a welcome respite from overeager product—even if Knopfler's ultra-relaxed delivery, his voice residing somewhere between Springsteen and Dylan at their mellowest, threatens to drag the album off to dreamland. But at least Knopfler has the guts to be boring, allowing Sailing The Philadelphia to succeed as a road-weary mood piece rather than fail as a desperate Dire Straits update.