Of my many friends in the world, by far the most common name among them is Mike. Today’s album came into my life specifically because of one particular Mike; we will call him Dr. Mike, because he is one. Dr. Mike and I first met as coworkers in 1994, and formed a friendship around basketball, running, and music. I would often borrow CDs from Mike’s office as we could listen to music while we worked. While he helped me expand my appreciation for reggae and Bob Marley, his biggest gift musically to me is today’s album, “Neck and Neck”, a collaboration between the old-school country guitarist Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler, leader of the Dire Straits. Like Dr. Mike and I, they are an eclectic pairing, but this is a beautiful album you probably haven’t heard, but probably should.
The album opens with a great song, “Poor Boy Blues”, which was the only single they released from this record, and you can clearly hear that distinct Knopfler guitar sound wrapped within their wonderfully paired harmony vocals. “Sweet Dreams” is one of several 1950s country songs by Don Gibson that they cover on the album. Perhaps the most entertaining song on the record is “There’ll Be Some Changes Made”, where the lovably square Atkins tries to convince Knopfler he’s ready for the rock and roll lifestyle, complete with money for nothing and chicks for free. Mark isn’t quite convinced, but it is a hilarious listen and the dueling guitars are spectacular.
My favorite song is “Just One Time”, another beautiful Don Gibson ballad, again featuring their sweet blended harmony vocals. This song is about separation, distance, and sadness, and although I hope the ending in real life is better than the state of this song, it has some highly relevant and heartwarming lyrics that speak to my long-distance girl Christie. “Ohh, I miss you so, Ohhh I need you so, I’d give this heart of mine, If I could see you just one time.”
“So Soft, Your Goodbye” is another incredibly well-played country ballad, and “Yakety Axe”, featuring Atkins, is a clever parody of the Boots Randolph song “Yakety Sax”. The last song, featuring Knopfler, “The Next Time in Town”, is a perfect closer to this amazing album you probably haven’t discovered… yet.
Dr. Mike, thank you for almost 30 years of friendship. You inspire me with your intelligence and unmatched work ethic, and you have always pushed me to be a better person and a better runner. Even if you are eternally youthful to the point of being confused for my son during a marathon, when in fact you are four years older than I am, I still love you as I do all of my running friends, Dwayne, David and his Oingo Boingo devotion, Steve and some great names from the past like Jim, Mike, and David the Sloth. I’m glad we can still get out there and punish ourselves, as it is always worth it when it is done. Even if you never refer another album to me, which is highly unlikely, you have given me the gift of a lifetime with “Neck and Neck”, which I’m hoping to pay forward.