Thursday, October 15, 2009
Artist: Mark Knopfler
Title: Get Lucky
As the founder of Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler found vast success and recognition with songs like, ‘Down to the Waterline’ and ‘Money for Nothing.’ Since reaching the pinnacle of economic success, much like Neil Young or even Bob Dylan, Knopfler has downshifted his career by going solo and putting out albums that lean heavily on roots and less on ‘rock n’ roll.’ While FM radio audiences may have felt slighted, music aficionados have been the beneficiary as Knopfler’s solo records have been consistently excellent.
Along with fellow Northumberland son, Sting, Mark Knopfler hails a part of his life from the Tyneside area of northeast England near Newcastle upon Tyne. Like his musical doppelganger, Knopfler goes back to the sound of his northern heritage using bagpipes, flute & whistle and accordion to create a soundscape enhanced by Celtic textures but anchored in post-1980’s folk music. Knopfler’s songs are panoramic with haunting tones that are fresh and familiar; telling stories of characters from his youth including meeting noted British race car driver Bobby Brown or memories of the United Kingdom’s ‘Remembrance Day’ along with “Angry Alfie, Bill and Ken.” It is interesting that both Knopfler and Sting draw upon the memories of the now long gone shipbuilding industry that once employed the working ‘Geordies’ and ‘Macums’ of the Tyneside area. As heard on Sting’s, ‘Soul Cages’ album and on Knopfler’s song, ‘So Far from Clyde’ (a reference to a water inlet in Scotland).
In recent year’s music’s “in crowd” crowed about Knopfler’s two duet albums with American songstress Emmylou Harris. While tasty the real gems of Knopfler’s body of work lie within his solo efforts rather than the albums by Dire Straits or Harris. For radio programmers, ‘You Can’t Beat the House’ is an easy entry into this album while ‘Piper to the End’ is a rich Celtic sound. The album’s title track is another accessible track to allow listeners a doorway into Knopfler’s rich musical expression. This is a true artist and therefore plan on it taking a few listens before the album begins to unfold for you. Knopfler is a master ballad writer and, as his work with Dire Straits has shown, a pretty good up-tempo songwriter too. Due to the niche nature of his work and the seemingly unique roots he brings together for the foundation of his songwriting, Knopfler is not for every listener but for those willing to invest the ear-time – his work will become among your favorite, ‘return to albums.’
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Band: Tower of Power
Title: Great American Soulbook
Writer: Rick Galusha
Combine one of recorded music finest horns bands with the best of the best soul songs and you get the new Tower of Power album, ‘Great American Soulbook.’ While mass appeal has overtly missed this terrific bay area act, for more than four decades (’68 – present) Tower of Power have graced, albeit surreptitiously, some of radio and recordings most popular acts including; Aerosmith, Elton John, Little Feat, Phish, Santana, Heart, Huey Lewis and the News, the Monkees, Santana, Elkie Brooks, Elton John, John Lee Hooker, Rod Stewart, Jefferson Starship, Mickey Hart, Spyro Gyra, Lyle Lovett, Poison, Phish, Toto, and the Brothers Johnson.
Perhaps the comfort of this album is that there are no surprises. Across their 22 albums the band has been consistent and ranged from brilliant to good. As the title of the album implies, TOP covers twelve well known soul songs including; Billy Paul’s ‘Me and Mrs. Jones,’ a medley of James Brown hits (an early influence on the band’s sound development) and Bill Wither’s ‘Who is He and What is He to You.’ Perhaps the highlight of the album is Tom Jones version of Sam & Dave’s, ‘Thank-you’ (as covered earlier by Z.Z. Top). Other guest appearances include; Sam Moore’s (Sam & Dave) cover of the Otis Redding hit, ‘Mr. Pitiful, ’ two songs with British youngster Joss Stone who joins the band for, ‘It Takes Two’ and ‘Your Precious Love’ and the aforementioned Huey Lewis on, ‘634-5789.’
Any song on this album is immediately radio friendly and music fans will find the performances and singing to be excellent. No, TOP is not breaking any new ground with this release but perhaps seeing the rewards that Rod Stewart and others had using well known covers to find financial success, Tower of Power has fallen back on their early influences and personal favorites to release an album that most soul music fans and many blues fans will find hours of enjoyment listening to.