Legendary guitarist Mark Knopfler’s eight album, Tracker, starts smoothly with a mixture of waltz, jazz and Celtic music. Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smokes, the first song, is a lulling, nostalgic (and quite long – more than six minutes) tale of Knopfler’s youthful memories of growing up in London: “We were young, so young and always broke / Not that we ever cared.”
Following tune, Basil, is about Basil Bunting, poet and former journalist at the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, for which a teen Knopfler used to work as a copy boy: “He calls for a copy boy, grumpy as hell/ Poets have to eat as well/ What he wouldn’t give just to walk out today/ To have time to think about time/ And young love thrown away”. Similarly, Beryl is inspired by English novelist Beryl Bainbridge, who never won the Booker Prize despite being shortlisted five times and was acknowledged from the committee only after her death in 2010. One of my favorite songs is Lights Of Taormina, not only because it celebrates the part of Sicily in which I was born, but also for its irresistible Dylan-esque influence in the singing, (with a melancholic guitar counterpoint to the voice), its evocative phrase of slide guitar and short, Italian-style melody played on accordion.
Most songs in this LP are slow and, surprisingly, the guitar doesn’t play a huge role, even though it’s always there, at the very beginning of each track. At times bluesy – Skydiver, at times stripped down – Long Cool Girl, always masterfully played. Throughout the album it pairs with the keyboard, played by Guy Fletcher, who also co-produced the album. The instrumentation is rich and includes fiddle, flute and saxophone.
I must admit I was waiting for more enthralling, outstanding guitar-led songs like What It Is off 2000 album Sailing To Philadelphia, but I would be unfair if I said there aren’t upbeat tunes in Tracker (Skydiver, Broken Bones). However, one of the most interesting parts of this LP is the storytelling. Knopfler’s voice is heartwarming and makes the album sound coherent. When the male narrator sings “Maybe I’m bound to wander/ From one place to the next/ Heaven knows why/ But in the wild blue yonder/ Your star is fixed in my sky” at the beginning of Whenever I Go (a slightly schmaltzy duet with Ruth Moody of the Wailin’ Jennies) you cannot help but believe he’s honest. And I even forgive him the overly sentimental saxophone solo.