June 2024

Blue Note Records 00602445525539
Format: LP

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

One Deep River is Mark Knopfler’s tenth solo album and comes six years after his previous outing, Down the Road Wherever (2018). A promotional video for One Deep River captures the spirit of the LP. It shows Knopfler and his band seated in the studio, playing “Two Pairs of Hands” in a confident, relaxed manner. The song eases us into the album with flowing rhythm guitars, percussion, and solo guitar lines that are immediately recognizable as Knopfler’s.

On his website, Knopfler says that “Two Pairs of Hands” describes his responsibilities as a band leader: “Trying to explain what it’s like coping with all of the info and trying to collate everything when you’re standing in the middle of the stage with a huge band.” Knopfler has always had a short-story writer’s eye for detail, and he captures both the joys and the responsibilities of performing (“What it is, I’m juggling here / I’ve only got two pairs of hands”).

One Deep River

With “Ahead of the Game,” Knopfler switches to life as a musician before fame, remembering what it was like to play in a regional band:

We’re worn out and weary, all of us
But we know why we came
Banged up and battered like this old bus
Staying just ahead of the game, ahead of the game

The two songs present snapshots of life as a working musician and remind us that, successful or not, being a musician requires the ability to maintain a passion for art while tending to the mundane aspects of the job.

The songs on One Deep River continue Knopfler’s long-established take on Americana, mixing blues, honky-tonk country music, and folk. His singing sounds more weathered and more relaxed than ever. It’s also become capable of deeper emotional shading. “Before My Train Comes” would be just another song about rambling, but Knopfler’s well-chosen details and unforced way of singing give the song resonance and depth.

Knopfler’s voice carries a strong hint of age and experience, and it serves him especially well in “Tunnel 13.” The song reaches back a hundred years to the story of the DeAutremont brothers, who killed four men during the commission of a train robbery in the Pacific Northwest’s Siskiyou Mountains. Knopfler conveys the complexity of the events in simple lines:

They wanted no witnesses, that was a fact
The brothers were bent on a barbarous act
Gold there was none, only sadness and tears
And the law coming after them year after year

He paints a clear picture of the brutality and senselessness of the robbery. The skill of Knopfler and the other musicians on the track helps to evoke the pointlessness of the crime and the unhappiness of its aftermath for all who were involved. Greg Leisz’s mournful pedal steel guitar gives the track its atmosphere and backbone. Knopfler doesn’t romanticize the criminals and he names the railroad employees killed in the robbery. He describes the horrible results of a brutal act: “Four good men lay murdered in the dogwoods and pines / Leaving widows and children and heartbreak behind.”

Many of the songs on One Deep River are about work—its challenges and its occasional drudgery. “Black Tie Jobs” recalls Knopfler’s time as a journalist, when one of his responsibilities was to cover funerals. The song describes the sadness of the task and the toll it can take. “Scavengers Yard” uses biting guitar lines to bring across its images of working in a junkyard. It’s the closest Knopfler comes to sounding like Dire Straits on the album. The overdriven guitars create a feeling of menace and they combine with the low-key accompaniment to create a tale of exploitation and greed.

One Deep River

One Deep River was recorded at Knopfler’s British Grove Studios in London, England. Guy Fletcher, who has worked with Knopfler since the mid-1980s, coproduced, engineered, and mixed the album. It was mastered by Bob Ludwig, and Miles Showell cut the lacquer for the LP. The two-LP set was cut at 45 rpm, and the sound was rich and full on my system, with a satisfying low-frequency foundation and a detailed midrange. Acoustic guitars sounded harmonically complete, and the texture and emotion of Knopfler’s voice was presented with clarity. Both LPs were well pressed—flat, centered, and quiet.

“One Deep River” closes the album with Knopfler using volume swells on his guitar lines, creating an aural equivalent of the ebb and flow of the River Tyne in Newcastle, northeast England, where Knopfler grew up. The song is a meditation on life’s journey—on looking back while time flows. Leisz’s pedal steel guitar meshes with Knopfler’s guitar lines to give the song a pensive yet hopeful tone.

One Deep River is deceptively laid back, but a current of deep feeling courses through the album. It doesn’t break any new ground for Knopfler, but reaffirms the high levels of craftsmanship and songwriting that have been a constant in his career. Knopfler adheres to a style and sound that are uniquely his, but manages to keep his recordings from being tired or repetitious. Knopfler has said he won’t be touring anymore, but I hope this isn’t his last album.

. . . Joseph Taylor