Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris – All the Roadrunning (2006)
purchase this album (Amazon)
It might seem like an odd pairing at first — she’s known for her voice, he made it big despite his — but All the Roadrunning is a graceful, natural-sounding collection that sounds like it was recorded in a fraction of the seven years the duo actually took to finish it.
There really isn’t much to say about the album; though Harris’ presence is definitely felt (particularly on call-and-response numbers like the excellent leadoff single “This Is Us” and “Belle Starr” [download]), in terms of sound and feel, this is a Knopfler album. The erstwhile Dire Strait has been exploring territory not altogether different from Harris’ since going solo, so this is less a result of Knopfler being overbearing than it has to do with the dulcet tones of his distinctive guitar.
As with pretty much anything Knopfler-related, Roadrunning rests pretty squarely on that guitar, and for fans, the pleasure of hearing it back in action can render the songs themselves nearly irrelevant. He’s always been more about style than flash, ambience more than hooks; this is not to say that he doesn’t write, or isn’t capable of writing, catchy songs — it’s more that he’s often content to establish and develop a mood, and let it do the talking for him. As a result, there are a lot of people who dismiss his music as boring; those people are wrong, but it’s easy to understand how they feel.
Both Harris and Knopfler are well past the point of converting the unconverted; that being said, Roadrunning is a noteworthy album, even when placed alongside other entries on the long rÃ©sumÃ©s boasted by these two grizzled old vets. Both of them sound enlivened by the pairing — Knopfler, in particular, has rarely sounded so vital, particularly as a solo artist, and “If This Is Goodbye” (download) is as profoundly moving as anything he’s ever written.
What the set lacks in immediate, grab-you-by-the-throat gratification, it more than makes up for in elegance and depth. Patient listeners who spend a little time with these songs will be rewarded.