on 7 February 2004
Dire Straits' ex-frontman Mark Knopfler keeps evolving further away from the Straits with every album he has made since he started his solo-career with "Golden Heart" in 1996. Being a big - and I mean BIG - fan of Knopfler's music, I like that. I like that very much.
It seems he has left the stadium behind, the massive crowds and light shows, the need for showing how great a guitarplayer he is. What remains now is the necessity to write good songs, built on straightforward but layered lyrics and a brilliantly understated guitarstyle that suits the songs.
"Sailing to Philadelphia" is a beautiful collection of Knopfleresque more-than-meets-the-ear songs. Its music tells you the story of American music in Europe and vice-versa: Knopfler effortlessly blends country, blues, rock and soul - his trademark works better than ever - without sounding forced at all. The voices of Van Morrisson ("The last laugh") and Gillian Welch ("Speedway at Nazareth") fit the album perfectly in this way.
My personal favourite, however, is the album's title song, featuring James Taylor: this softly adventurous song sounds like a small boat has just come ashore on a clear morning. It sums up what makes this album so wonderful. Knopfler's and Taylor's voices contrast and blend at the same time, telling the story of Mason and Dixon, starting on an adventure in the big unknown America. The guitars tell a story too, though: a tremelo guitar reminds us of country, a soft acoustic one brings in folk. Still, Mark's Stratocaster determines the sound, and his simple but heartfelt notes respond lyrically to the song's themes.
STP is a big improvement over "Golden Heart" in terms of sound. Whereas GH still lingers between a folk and rock sound which may be compared to the Strait's last one "On every street", STP sounds much more natural and acoustic, less searched for. It suits the songs perfectly.
If you are willing to follow Mark on his journey now that he has left the Straits behind and see where he is heading, this album is a great start. You will not regret it.
on 29 August 2003
"Now hold your head up, Mason, see America lies there - the morning tide has raised the capes of Delaware" ... can you see it? Do you hear it in the way his guitar picks up its pace ever so subtly and takes on a lighter shade as he sings these lines?
"Sailing to Philadelphia" is a wonderful piece of storytelling, not only in Mark Knopfler's lyrics and vocals but, even more so, in the album's amazingly beautiful instrumentation. This is no record for those who are only into fast, harsh tunes; although in songs like "Baloney Again," "Junkie Doll," and "Silvertown Blues" Knopfler does take issue with modern society and its problems. More than anything, however, this album is a voyage - through time and space, from ancient Scottish citadels to 19th and 20th century America, and through musical styles ranging from blues to rock to folk to country; shining in its understated style as only Mark Knopfler's music can.
While "What It Is," the first track on the CD, is obviously reminiscent of the early Dire Straits, Knopfler said during his 2001 tour in support of the album that the song's intro and theme were actually (at least partly subconsciously) inspired by one of the Scottish folk songs he used to hear as a little boy in Glasgow. And indeed, it is hard not to picture Blue Bonnets (Over the Border) when you hear him sing about that Scottish piper standing alone high up on the parapet and the highland drums that are beginning to roll, all the while the garrison sleeps in the citadel "and something from the past just comes and stares into my soul."
From the cold tollgates of Caledonia, Mark Knopfler takes us to Durham and Northumberland and the coaly Tyne (where his own family moved from Glasgow, too, when he was still very young), and introduces us to Pynchon's heroes, the "Geordie boy" Dixon and Mason, the "baker's boy from the west country." While in many respects the guitar play in this song is vintage Knopfler, you can almost hear the waves of the Delaware River flowing out of the instrument. James Taylor's vocals, of course, are an ideal embodiment of Mason's character, and they perfectly compliment Knopfler's own voice which, it almost seems, has never been better than now.
"Prairie Wedding," the only love song of the album, carries on the theme of "A Night In Summer Long Ago" from 1996's "Golden Heart" - the poor medieval Scottish knight has become a 19th century farmer somewhere out on the American prairies, but he still takes his queen from the train station in the small town where she has arrived up the home trail, stunned by her beauty, embarrassed by the simplicity of his own circumstances and wondering, "Do you think that you could love me Mary? You think we got a chance of a life?" (Compare the last verse of " Night In Summer Long Ago:" "Then I did lead you from the hall and we did ride upon the hill, away beyond the city wall, and sure you are my lady still. A night in summer long ago the stars were falling from the sky and still, my heart, I have to know, why do you love me, Lady, why?")
In modern-day America, Knopfler takes up the themes of black migrant workers in "Baloney Again," of a race car driver's tour from Indie track to Indie track and from accident to accident ("but at the Speedway At Nazareth I made no mistake"), and of the "tables haunted by the ghosts of Las Vegas" and the "Sands of Nevada [which] go drifting away." And as always, the song's instrumentation and Knopfler's dark and coarse rendition of the lyrics are a masterful portrayal of the desolation of a Nevada ghost town and a gambler who has met his fate there ("in a wasteland of cut glass my dreams have all crumbled, and I've paid with whatever I had left for a soul.")
The album was released in three different versions, with only the British version containing all fourteen songs Knopfler intended to include on it. ("One More Matinee" was considered inappropriate for the American market, "Do America" omitted on the version published in continental Europe.) Thus true fans are well-advised to make a point of obtaining the album's British edition. Yet, regardless which version you buy: This is Mark Knopfler at his best, featuring guest appearances not only by James Taylor but also by Van Morrison (in "The Last Laugh"), Gillian Welch (in "Prairie Wedding" and "Speedway At Nazareth") and many other artists; including, of course, "honorary 96er" Paul Franklin.
Since the release of "Sailing to Philadelphia," Mark Knopfler has geared down again and changed pace for his most recent solo album, "Ragpicker's Dream," an acoustic diamond in the rough; thus proving yet again his versatility and his aversion to being type-cast. But regardless which aspect of Knopfler's amazing musical talent you appreciate most: This album will doubtlessly continue to shine as one of the brightest stars in the firmament of his creativity.
on 27 January 2002
I have always been a big fan of Dire Straits and followed Mark through his Notting Hillbillies Days too. I originally prchased this album when it was first released, but my inlaws borrowed it and I never saw it since. Having spent Xmas listening to it at their house, I purchased it again, and now, to have Mark playing his guitar through several hundred watts of set-up at home is truly incredible.
What makes this album so great is that it sounds great with the volume turned up high, or down low.
This is definitely Knopfler at his best.
The intro to El-macho still brings me back to Six blade knife, and its use in Desperado. There are a lot of nods to earlier straits songs, but these songs have evolved too.
In fact the whole album is like a journey through time of old songs evolving into what must be the best album Mark has made.
on 8 October 2000
Sailing to Philadelphia is one of those albums which you will play over and over again. It is a mix of Dire Straits and blues and Nashville, strung along with Knopfler's gravelly voice and some excellent thoughtful guitar work. The duets with Van Morrison and James Taylor mix well with Knopfler's voice. I particularly like 'Sailing to Philadelphia' (the title track) and 'Silvertown Blues' but I don't really think there is a single bad track on the album.
If you like Dire Straits you will enjoy this album. It isn't quite the same, but there are certainly enough similarities to satisfy the hard core 'Straits' fan. Buy it, you won't be disappointed. Roll on the next one Mark!
This is probably my favorite record (so far) from all of the Mark Knopfler solo albums. It has that unique element that takes you to a ground guided by his calming voice... But wait, this record has a few rockers, don't expect dire straits... this has a more country rock flavor, still more rock than anything else. The guitar sounds are brilliant and I loved the production on it.
Overall I think it encompasses the best of Mark as a solo artist; don't miss it.
Let the music play!
on 29 September 2000
It's been a long wait, but in the end, it has been worth it. 'Sailing to Philadelphia' is a brilliant album, which marks a significant musical development for Mark Knopfler. There is a definite break from his previous albums - if you take 'Golden Heart', and the two Dire Straits albums 'On Every Street' and 'Brothers in arms', there are recurring themes - "Walk of Life" became "The Bug" became "Cannibals", "Money for Nothing" became "Heavy Fuel" became "Imelda". If "Golden Heart" was a stepping stone, MK has now well and truly crossed the stream. This is great stuff, quite melancholic. My favourite tracks are "What it is", "Sailing to Philadelphia", "Silvertown Blues", "Speedway at Nazareth", "Prairie Wedding" and "Junkie Doll", but the remaining tracks are great, too. Just one thing - MK fans were promised a single release of "What it is", with bonus tracks (including "Long Highway", the encore track from the "Golden Heart" tour), but this has failed to materialise. Shame.
on 3 January 2002
When I first heard What It Is I thought I was listening to Dire Straits. Even though I knew I wasn't there is a striking difference between Sailing to Philadelphia and Mark's second solo album 'Golden Heart.' What It Is has somewhat of a Sultans of Swing appeal that allured me straight away. Sailing to Philadelphia is a classic. A duet which not only is well written in terms of lyrics, but is played beautifully. Mark doesn't thrash out on the guitar as much as he use too, but he doesn't need to. The song plays out with a few but powerful guitar notes. Mark Knopfler's music has matured so much. Lyrics such as Baloney Again, Silvertown Blues, Prairie Wedding, and Junkie Doll make the songs stand out without heavy guitar picking. But the guitaring is still there in some force in the already mentioned What It Is and Speedway at Nazerath. Speedway at Nazerath for me is probably my favourite, with emotional lyrics and an outro that reminds me of great Dire Straits outros such as Tunnel of Love.
A truly fantastic album, where Mark Knopfler's music has just matured with every new album. Knopfler's new filmscore 'Sons of Scotland' is another fine example. Just like Paul King said, this album would have sold millions if the CD had read 'Dire Straits - Sailing to Philadelphia.'
on 27 August 2003
I would rate this as Mark Knopfler's best solo album to date. There is a refreshing quality to the tracks and so many different styles within this album that I never get bored of listening to it. As usual, there is some wonderful guitar work to be heard and plenty of guest appearances add variety to the production.
Sailing to Philidelphia and El Macho are two examples of very different styles but both are superb.
Compared to Ragpicker's Dream I found this album to be more lively and animated.
Not to be missed by any Knopfler fan.
on 24 March 2002
If, like this reviewer, you can still recall where you were when you first heard "Sultans of Swing" on the radio, you will not be disappointed by this CD. In fact many of the tracks could comfortably find themselves on the vinyl of Dire Straits' first self-titled album all those years ago. Once again Knopfler has written songs on a diverse range of subjects from surveying the Mason-Dixon line to Nascar racing to the Millennium Dome! And great tracks these, and others, are. Unfortunately Mr K also seems to have felt it necessary to use some stocking fillers to pad out the CD: "Do America", "El Macho", the truly awful "One More Matinee" - minutes that could perhaps have been better utilised extending the excellent "Silvertown Blues". Nevertheless there is a good 35 minutes of pure Knopfler genius here - if you need more playing time than that the answer is simple: load his "Golden Heart" album into your multi-player, select your fav tracks from both, then sit back and enjoy even more of that unique Knopfler magic.
on 30 July 2001
Brilliant album. Not just the guitar, but the whole of the songs. Unique blend of musical styles: rock, pop, country, blues, ... They are honest, subtle, sensitive and balanced. Less is more, Knopfler knows, and he sounds like he really does what he wants to do: write great music.
What more can you want from a master who, at this point in his career, still wants to improve his playing and keeps on searching.
It makes this album a real grower- it keeps opening up every time you listen to it. I am looking forward to the live dvd of the latest tour.