On Mark Knopfler’s Down the Road Wherever

Former Dire Straits kingpin continues the journey alone

Mark Knopfler Down the Road Wherever, Blue Note 2018

Although it’s never easy to bounce back once your band breaks up, guitar players seem to have it easier than most.

After all, they’re generally rockin’ out the riffs and grabbing a good portion of the spotlight besides. That helps make the transition easier, given the fact that they merely have to shift the set-up to adjust to their game plan, which is generally in place to begin with.

All the evidence needed lies in the list of those axe men who bid their leave to the outfits they once played a prime role in, and then successfully left them in the rear view mirror after embarking on solo careers that made their earlier efforts appear diminished by comparison.  Mention Eric Claptom, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, and any need to offer a qualification like “formerly of” becomes absolutely unnecessary to say the least.

Granted, vocalists also enjoy potential opportunity once they opt for individual outings, but all too often they still seem dependent on an instrumental foil of some sort, almost as if they’re lost on their own. Even iconic artists like Roger Daltrey, Rod Stewart and Mick Jagger — Mick Jagger especially — appeared uncertain of their sea legs without the Who, the Stones and the Faces to adjust the balance between brawn and bravado.

No one offers a better example of that potential for a smooth segue way than Mark Knopfler, post Dire Straits. The Straits were indeed a force to be reckoned with when it came to an ability to purvey silken rhythms with a semi-hypnotic allure, but in assuming a solo mantle, Knopfler managed to maintain the same standard by simply melding those earlier attributes it to his own template. He’s crafted soundtracks, Celtic musings, a country caress and a resonant rock style while exceeding the high bar set early on.

Alternate cover for Road

Down the Road Wherever is another excellent example of Knopfler’s dexterity, a generous 16 song set that finds him taking a shift in stance throughout, from the nocturnal croon of “When You Leave,” “Slow Learner” and “Floating Away,” to the  hipster-like swagger of “Nobody Does That,” the sprawling cinematic sweep of “Drovers Road,” the restless resolve of “Nobody’s Child,” and the punchy “Just A Boy Away From Home,” the latter with an unexpected instrumental riff based on the classic “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

In truth, Down the Road Wherever is simply another example of Knopfler’s knack for excellence, reflecting the kind of quality control he’s exerted since taking his leave of Dire Straits some 22 years ago. His is a lesson that other artists would be wise to heed, particularly those eager to break the ties that bound them to previous entities and threatened to shackle any effort to move forward. Granted, Knopfler already had all the additives at his command, and his refusal to look back was manifest in his decision to scorn the band’s Rock and Roll Hall of fame honors earlier this year. It might not have been the best PR move, but it underscored his intent to put the past behind him.

In the final analysis, Knopfler may no longer consider himself a sultan of swing. Regardless, there’s no denying he’s still a king of cool.


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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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