Once upon a time there was a band known as Dire Straits. In the 80’s you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing one of their many amazing songs, from rocking tunes about making it big on the MTV to ballads about star crossed lovers and even wartime songs about unsung heroes of the past. They dominated the airwaves, broke the top ten music charts in Europe and the US and then in 1995, just like that, they were gone.
What made this band so phenomenal, besides the terrific songs, was the voice and guitar work of their lead singer, Mark Knopfler. Considered one of the world’s greatest guitarists, Knopfler had the ability to, even on a bad day, make any guitar he played cry and sing. It wouldn’t be long after his days with Dire Straits that he went solo, and never looked back. Thanks to that, we have had nine solo albums, as many soundtrack albums and even some albums he produced for others.
Today’s Stand Out album is one of his solo efforts and it really showcases Knopfler at his finest.
Why This Album?
It was at a young age when I first started listening to Dire Straits. This was one of the first bands I listened to with little urging from my father, but one that we liked together nearly at the same time. It was sometime around his Brothers In Arms album with Straits that I really began to appreciate his genius. The man had a gift and I was there to appreciate it from the get go.
It wasn’t until years after the demise of his primary band that I discovered Mark Knopfler himself, as a solo artists. I believe it was the album, Kill To Get Crimson in 2007 when I received an advance copy of the album from a coworker. At the time I worked at a music store and, occasionally, we would receive advance copies of new albums so we could sell new music to folks coming in. I remember seeing the name and recognizing it but I wasn’t sure from where. It was when my friend said something to the fact that Knopfler was ‘that guy from the band that sang Money For Nothing’, that it all clicked together. I was shocked that I had not known that Mark had continued his music after Dire Straits and so I took the disc home and gave it a spin. I have been happy I did ever since.
Although Mark’s style had toned down from his rocking days in the intervening years, his core talent was still there. My favorite Dire Straits tracks were always the more mellow and introspective ones so it was nice to hear more of what I loved. Sure it had a little vintage feel to it but Mark still had it and I was happy to be reunited with him.
It wasn’t long before I began collecting his back log of music and found in each album something special. It was when I received my copy of Shangri-La though that I realized that I had missed one of the finest albums of his career. This album was full of some amazing songs and immediately became a regular on rotation.
What set Shangri-La apart for me was honest it was. This album came across as an album full of songs that were unpretentious and knew exactly what they wanted to be. This was Knopfler playing the music he was born to play. A little bit blues, a touch of country and every song a self contained story.
I have always loved Knopfler’s ability to tell a story with a song. Even in his Dire Straits days, he had a way to tell a tale in just a few moments of music that left you with a full story of someone’s life, or a just moment he plucked out from time. This album is full of tunes about famous people including McDonald’s Ray Kroc (Boom, Like That) to even a song about Elvis Presley (Back to Tupelo). In each song he provides a deep history lesson in just a matter of minutes that will have you singing along and diving back in for more.
The thing that also sets Knopfler apart is his guitar work and this album is no exception. He has a way to make a six-string sound like it is being played through him by nothing less than angels. It is obvious that every note played from his hands has the 50+ years of practice behind them. The man is a wizard, and there are few that can do what he does.
One day I hope to see him live if he ever makes it over to the US somewhere near me in one of his tours. I doubt I will ever have a chance to see him in concert but I consider him to be a bucket list performer and heaven knows I have missed out on one too many of those as of late.
Immediately, I have to go with Boom, Like That. It is such a great song and cool story about Ray Kroc.
Postcards from Paraguay channels a little spanish guitar into the album and man is it gorgeous to behold
Donegan’s Gone. In honor of the King of Skiffle, Lonnie Donegan, this is Knopfler’s tribute to a man and a style of music that greatly influenced him as a youth. It is a great tune and one that will have you tapping your feet in no time. Here is a great live version of the track.
I normally only present three songs but this last one is one of the most beautiful and romantic songs I have ever heard. It is a song that you can slow dance to, one that you can fall in love to, one that speaks from the heart. It is also kind of the title track, it’s called Our Shangri-la.
Ok, Where do I get it?
This one is kinda tough to find in physical form but at the time of this writing you could find it here for around $5. If it is gone by the time you read this, you should check this album out on Spotify. Heck, you should check all of Knopfler’s music out on Spotify while you’re at it. You won’t be disappointed. If you like what you hear, check out his web site!
Late to the Game 12/18/2018
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