Sound — 7
If there was ever a songwriter and performer who could go out and tour exclusively off his catalog of commercial hits, it's Mark Knopfler. His role as the lead vocalist and guitarist for the rock band Dire Straits from the late 1970s to early 1990s was nothing short of prolific, and resulted in the formation of songs that inspired many listeners to pick up the guitar themselves. Such songs as "Money for Nothing" and "Sultans of Swing" are just a handful of highlights from this body of work, yet it was following the dissolution of the Dire Straits that Knopfler began to branch out even further stylistically in his solo career.
Five decades since he first set foot on stage, Knopfler continues to build upon this catalog with the release of his eighth studio album, "Tracker." Considering the wealth of material that he's appeared on (without even counting his numerous collaborations with names like Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan), it could have been an appropriate title for a retrospective compilation effort, and yet it instead is the label for a presentation of fifteen new songs - each having their own unique character. A Celtic atmosphere is embodied on the opening track "Laughs and Jokes and Drinks and Smokes," a song that is propelled by bagpipe arrangements and articulate arpeggios. In contrast, selections such as "Skydiver" and "Beryl" have a moderate blues rock feel not entirely unlike what one might anticipate from a "Making Movies" outtake.
Knopfler's moving vocal performance leads the way through this proud assortment of stylistic achievements, which varies from contemporary rock on "Lights of Taormina" to country accented campfire acoustic on ".38 Special" and a reinforced Celtic sound on "Basil." Besides the distinctive soulful guitar work and similarly unique vocals, there's little musically speaking that ties "Tracker" to Knopfler's catalog with the Dire Straits, but that's also a quality that dedicated fans who picked up "Sailing to Philadelphia" when it first hit the shelves over a decade ago have come to anticipate. Although "Tracker" isn't a retrospective release, one could describe the overall feel of this new installment as Knopfler reliving his past experiences through a combination of passionate musicianship and a laidback attitude.
Lyrics — 8
Throughout the course of his career, Mark Knopfler has been more well known for providing an emotional vocal performance that compliments the rest of the song as opposed to presenting his singing style at the helm of the composition. It's never been a feature that gallivanted it's way out of your speakers with a youthful swagger, and yet it has been a distinctive quality of Knopfler's music that advocate listeners always keep a mindful ear out for. His lower octave singing style has remained rather unchanged in the years between the 1978 Dire Straits debut and this 2015 studio effort, which perhaps speaks for itself, however there's no denying that it's this consistent quality that continues to propel the end result forward - especially when it comes down to albums of a more experimental nature.
Overall Impression — 7
Mark Knopfler doesn't have to continue creating new music; with more than two dozen studio albums, collaborative efforts and film soundtracks under his belt, there's such a wealth of material that he could likely come up with a whole new set list every night, yet the message on "Tracker" is that Knopfler is still alive and well as a songwriter, but if he's going to continue to create music he's going to do it his way. "Tracker" ventures into territory that many veteran rock musicians seldom head into, and still manages to come out on the winning side because of the impressive musicianship and solid vocal performance.