“Nobody Does That” reminds me of the Average White Band, with some Steely Dan thrown in. “Back on the Dance Floor” sounds more like Dire Straits than anything Mark Knopfler has done since establishing his solo career. “Just a Boy from Home” evokes memories of early Fleetwood Mac at its bluesy best.
A movie could be developed around the story in “Trapper Man,” about a trapper who meets with a trader. The romantic “When You Leave” would be a powerful addition to a film about a long, complicated love affair. The music and lyrics of “Matchstick Man” could serve as the basis of a film about the life of a traveling musician.
Deep into his career, Mark Knopfler no longer needs to surprise anyone or break new ground. But on Down the Road Wherever, he ventures into some unexpected territory. “Nobody Does That” feels soulful and funky. “Heavy Up” contains hints of reggae and calypso. Knopfler has crooned in the past, yet “When You Leave” could easily fall into Tony Bennett’s lap. Knopfler’s signature guitar style fits into the aforementioned settings just as comfortably as it does in the tunes here that unspool with his long-recognizable combination of rock, folk, and traditional Celtic music.
Bernie Grundman’s cut of the album deepens the soundstage and gives instruments a little more room than they enjoy on the CD version. Guy Fletcher’s keyboards accompany Knopfler’s guitar on the intro to “Trapper Man” and possess a light, airy quality. Knopfler’s voice remains out in front of the music, with the nicely layered backing vocals confined to the left channel. Low frequencies, too, boast pleasing fullness and ample separation. In addition, the swirling keyboards on “”Back on the Dance Floor” teem with texture and depth, and Glenn Worf’s bass thumps with added conviction. Throughout, Ian Thomas’ cymbals hang in the air longer than on CD. The voices comprising background vocals are more finely detailed, which makes it easier to appreciate the quality of the harmonies.
The vinyl also renders physical sounds—such as the guitar pick striking against strings on “Nobody Does That”—with gravity and realism. During the song’s intro, the kick drum echoes in the right channel and resonates with a more convincing presence. Nigel Hitchcock’s sax solo sounds grittier, and the horn section deeper. Acoustic guitars are warm, round-toned, and nicely articulated. Knopfler’s solos on electric and acoustic guitar feel richer, and his picking technique comes across with higher resolution.
Yet the vinyl’s most prized aspect is how close it brings you to Knopfler’s voice. On extremely personal fare—such as “One Song at a Time,” which recounts memories of the veteran artist’s early days with Dire Straits—Knopfler sits in the room with you and shares his story. The vinyl also brings him a bit further out in the soundstage than the CD, and does so with startling three-dimensionality.
My copy of the two-LP set arrived with a sticker affixed to the shrink wrap that read “Made in the Czech Republic.” Both LPs are smoothly finished at the edges and quiet. The only nitpicks? The first LP is slightly dished, which doesn’t affect play, but caused the record to slip on my acrylic mat when I cleaned side one. The second LP had a white substance that came off after a brush cleaning.
Visually, the gatefold jacket is medium-weight cardboard with directly printed-on graphics. Inner sleeves feature additional photographs of the winter landscape depicted on the rear cover. These photos are not included in the CD artwork. You may need to be careful removing and replacing the LPs in the sleeves, the tops of which on my version are slightly curled. Puzzlingly, the songs are sequenced differently on the LP than they are on the CD. Presenting them in the latter’s order would have led to roughly the same running time for each side.
Knopfler and Guy Fletcher co-produced the album, recorded at Knopfler’s British Grove Studios. I have been enjoying the CD through a new DAC, and it sounds very good. But the vinyl delivers more realism and depth, and wins out as the optimal way to fully enjoy Down the Road Wherever.
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