Mark Knopfler, “Beryl” from Tracker (2015): One Track Mind

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Whereas 2012’s outsized and superlative Privateering found Mark Knopfler once again breathing air into a series of first-person narratives — many of them firmly anchored on a seafaring theme — our first taste of his follow up project arrives with a wider perspective.

And a cinematic soundscape to match.

“Beryl,” which advances the new Mark Knopfler album Tracker, combines his idiosyncratic, eternally resonant picking style with a skipping rootsiness familiar to those who have followed his more recent solo work — sounding something like Dire Straits during a front-porch picking session. Only this time, instead of inhabiting the role of a scalliwag working the narrow line between duty and pirating, he’s telling the story of an author misunderstood in her own time.

Named after Beryl Bainbridge, Knopfler’s subject found herself serially nominated for the UK’s prestigious Booker Prize for fiction writers, but never received one until after passing in 2010. Of course, while Bainbridge was so often overlooked — and, in fact, already in her grave (“after all she gave”) by the time recognition finally arrived — Knopfler has led that life in reverse.

Acclaimed perhaps beyond his own imagining three decades ago, Mark Knopfler pushed back from that stardom, and has done his level best never to return. Focusing instead on smaller projects (bluegrass records, soundtracks and detailed but dilated solo efforts), Knopfler seems instead to have craved Beryl Bainbridge’s relative anonymity amongst the every-day public.

Still, it’s easy to see how Mark Knopfler found inspiration in her work, if not her journey. Like Knopfler, Beryl Bainbridge often traced the psychology of working-class life, sorting through its small, but important triumphs while describing in eye-opening detail how things sometimes turn. Perhaps he even saw a bit of himself on those old pages.

In offering this third-person character sketch, Knopfler’s already given us much to think about in the run up to Tracker, due March 16, 2015. “Beryl,” so full of heart and specificity and love, reminds us of why Mark Knopfler became famous in the first place — even as it seems to retrace the steps that led him away from that fame.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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