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After seven years since his last album, there’s been much anticipation behind Mark Knopfler’s latest release. Privateering is Knopfler’s seventh solo work and he gets back to business with full force. The two-disc album contains twenty original songs and plays as an ode to the successes and shortcomings along a journey towards salvation. The tracks are linked with an air of wise tales, bluesy anthems of love and loss all grounded with Knopfler’s humility towards his craft. There’s a tactful mixture of folk, rock ‘n’ roll, and country, and much like his past work he strikes a neat balance between all.
The album opens with “Redbud Tree” and establishes the strong foothold Knopfler has in songwriting. The song begins with slow acoustic guitar strums, Knopfler’s vocals come in sturdy and clean depicting an image of the tree he is indebted to standing in “a place of ferns and grass, her leaves reaching.” The powerful lyricism is found throughout the entire album, but there are a few songs that depict this wordsmith’s abilities quite well, another particular example being “Dreamed of the Drowned Submariner,” the seventh song on the second disc. This short but sweet track shows us (not only tells) of a pristine memory: “Your hair is a strawflower that sings in the sun/ My darling, my beautiful daughter/ So went the dream of the drowned submariner/ Cast away on the water.”
In other parts, Knopfler’s words are appropriately cryptic, as in “Kingdom of Gold.” This track is telling of the album’s title alluding to the hardships of independence amidst a battle waged on a “high priest of money” who “looks down on the river/The dawn coming up on his kingdom of gold.” This folk song leaves you wondering about the capitalistic affairs of the music industry, but the song is delicate in it’s demeanor and neither pushes or shoves it’s listener to one direction. It’s ambiguity is successful in that the trembling fiddles can easily imply sympathies for both the “high priest” and conquered crusader.
Tracks like “Got to Have Something” and “I Used to Could” shine with honky-tonk-esque vibrations and are playful counterparts to the overarching themes of sanctuary and redemption. In the former Knopfler sings, “Well if you ain’t got whiskey/ don’t tell me that you ain’t got gin,” while the latter echoes the rural country sensibilities of driving a “GMC Cannonball.” The pedal steel is at the forefront and the screeching harmonica and arpeggiated guitar riffs swing arm in arm. While these songs adhere to a more country and blues genre, they also function as moments that resurrect Knopfler’s true rockin’ (Dire Straits) spirit. For Dylan enthusiasts, songs like “”Don’t Forget Your Hat” and “Today is Okay” sound like kin to the more upbeat tunes of Modern Times, and it goes without saying why Knopfler would chose to collaborate and tour with him last fall.
Privateering puts you in a picture where life pivots between a creaking plank and a chattering salon piano. It is not aloof in it’s depiction of transience, but rather floats on smooth waters and takes time to anchor, to share in a story greater than it’s creator. Carved from the body of classic-folk string structures, harmonica blues and crisp country guitars Knopfler is talking—whether it’s a gentle request for another whiskey or a sad retelling of a past lover’s face, it all feels like hard-earned wisdom you can’t help but lend an ear to.