Notting Hill is a colourful district of London west of Bayswater, more Bohemian in the 1980s than its fashionable and affluent modern face might suggest. This unlikely metropolitan enclave was the inspiration for the "Notting Hillbillies" moniker chosen for this superb bluegrass-country band formed by Mark Knopfler together with Steve Phillips, Guy Fletcher and Brendan Croker in 1988. Knopfler's idea was to create a kind of counterpoint to the then enormously successful Dire Straits: a laid-back, guitar-based country band which could play smaller and more intimate venues and which might attract a slightly different audience. "Missing" is the only album the band ever released, and it's a gem.
The tracks are a mixture of traditional, mainly American, country/bluegrass numbers and a few new songs by the band members in the same idiom. "Your Own Sweet Way" is Knopfler's only composition on the album and the only one on which he sings the lead: a slow, harmonious minor-key beauty with a haunting quality all its own. All the songs are good, and the guitar work stands out as truly exceptional. A few of the songs clearly date from the early part of the 20th century and the lyrics are often delightfully innocent and archaic ("Workin' on the railroad for a dollar a day, gotta get my money, gotta get my pay...").
The album has a real laid-back feel and can be listened to any time of day or night. Many of the songs are poignant and all instantly memorable, with vocal harmonies overlayed with understated but virtuoso melodic guitar accompaniments. It never ceases to sooth, to brighten the mood, to bring a smile. It's quality music for all occasions, with a quirky feel all its own, and you'll never tire of it.
A second album would have been welcome, but alas "Missing" was a one-off.