There are some guitarists you can almost instantly recognize when you hear their sound. Eddie Van Halen immediately comes to mind, and I would probably say the same for Jimi Hendrix, The Edge from U2, and perhaps even put Jimmy Page and Keith Richards to that list. That being said, none of them, even Eddie, are as consistently and immediately as recognizable as Mark Knopfler, the guitarist and vocalist and founding force of the band Dire Straits. There is something remarkably pure, crisp, and pristine about the sound of his playing. I have always envisioned that his sound is enabled by not only his incredibly precise and pure touch, but the lightest and softest strings possible. One of my former coworkers, Mark, stands out to me as one of several people in my past who are uniquely devoted to Knopfler and his music. I find Dire Straits fans to be quiet, thoughtful, insightful and highly intelligent in their musical consideration, which fits well with the sophistication of this sound.
Like Van Halen and The Cars, “Dire Straits” is the third significant self-titled album released in 1978. I remember purchasing it about a decade later, but had forgotten how beautiful and soothing this entire record sounds. It opens with the emerging sounds of “Down to the Waterline”, and honestly, each of the eight songs that follow are so pleasant and enjoyable to listen to, especially in a quiet moment. I will end my assessment with the trademark song from this debut momentarily, and even though I love the entire record, I’m particularly partial to side two. “In the Gallery” has a beautifully played subtle funk to it, and the song that follows, “Wild West End”, is my second-favorite song on the album. The chord sequence and melody of this song is just so beautiful, I could listen to it every single night as the sun goes down. Knopfler’s speak-sing vocal style is unusual but works so well, especially on this love-from-afar song. The album closes with “Lions”, which is the perfect book-end to the opening track. I just don’t know how you can listen to this album, especially side two, and not be immediately hooked.
Of course, the signature song of this record is the first song on side two, “Sultans of Swing”. From a musical perspective, the guitar playing on this song just blows me away, particularly the note-for-note perfection of the solos near the end. Lyrically, most people recognize this as the ode to London that it really is. However, for me, I have always associated it with New Orleans. If you listen to the story, it connects me to the Dixieland jazz players at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter. After my parents moved there, my Dad would take me there to see and hear his favorite music. I always loved this connection, as he and I did not always connect on music the same way I did with most others. However, in Preservation Hall, he was just another music lover like me, and this song transports me to a misty, dark night, “Coming in out of the rain to hear the jazz pour down”. I love this song, I love this album, and most of all, I love you Dad. Thanks for showing me that side of you all those years ago.