Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris
All The Roadrunning
Warner Bros. Records
What do you get when you mix two of the most unique voices in modern music on one album of finely written songs? You get All The Roadrunning, a collection of songs that proves that the whole is equal to far more than the sum of its parts. While the songs on All The Roadrunning are mostly of the country bent, there are tunes that span genre, and each and every track contains something universal in appeal. Mark Knopfler’s guitar playing retains the same distinct flavor that it has always contained, making his voice all that much more familiar. Emmylou Harris’ voice is as resonant and as full of characteristic splendor as ever, as she proves once more that she is one of the finest singers to ever be caught on vinyl, magnetic tape, or digital media. The two voices are so strong on their own, that there was doubt as to whether the mix would work, but as soon as “Beachcombing” starts all doubts are laid to rest.
The songs on All The Roadrunning are varied in tone and tempo, creating a listening experience that is enjoyable and immediately classic. The down-tempo dirges like “I Dug Up A Diamond” and “Rollin’ On” starkly offset the immediacy and jump of “This Is Us” or the rollicking hoedown of “Red Staggerwing.” The aforementioned “This Is Us” is the kind of song that demands more and more volume from the CD player, as the arpeggiated keyboards and Knopfler’s trademark guitars along with a thumping rhythm track brilliantly underpin the an amazing story as told through memories of a long-standing couple. This tune is immediately likeable, as it speaks not only to the soul, but also to the tapping foot. “Red Staggerwing” is a folky, bluegrass stomp with some of the most memorable lyrics in recent times and a stunningly beautiful call and response vocal arrangement: “If I was a Fender guitar, a Fender painted red, you could play me, darling, until your fingers bled/ If I was one of those Gibsons, like a ’58 or 9, you could plug me in and play me anytime.” Not only are there references made to Fenders and Gibsons, but also to some of the greatest racing cars and motorcycles of all time (Vincents and Indians). Instantly classic.
Harris’ voice eerily shines with its distinctive and haunting tone on the slower numbers like “Love And Happiness ,” a meandering country track that really brings the tenderness out of her voice, as well as that of Knopfler. Acoustic guitar and a slow shuffle beat, punctuated by a phenomenal guitar solo, combine to create one of the most memorable ballads of the year. Electric blues sets in on “Right Now,” with Knopfler’s guitar carrying the sliding melody lines to their perfect ends. The song has a certain hop to it that, when coupled with the slide licks, creates a pure and fascinating blues music that lends a bit of hope to the heart, and touches memory deeply. AAA radio would be well advised to immediately add “Belle Starr” to their playlists. This play on the relationship between Belle Starr and Jesse James speaks more truth about love than most of the love songs they’re currently spinning.
The coup de grace comes on the title track, where a softly lilting tune with a definite Irish feel carries the sublime and impassioned voices of Knopfler and Harris to even greater heights. Among the fiddles and Knopfler’s amazingly empathetic guitar parts, are some incredibly tender vocals that express without doubt the kinship of a truly loving relationship. Emmylou’s voice simply sparkles on album closer “If This Is Goodbye,” a fittingly simple and nostalgic song that makes a perfect tie-up for such an amazing listening experience.
While the songs are amazing and deal with the joys and pains of relationships more often than not, All The Roadrunning is a celebration of more than just those important daily trials. This record is a celebration of two of the most talented and amazing musicians of our time – Two voices that have come together to write and record some of the most heartfelt and encompassing music in recent memory. This is more than a collection of songs that fans of either artist will embrace; this album is a universal work of art on scale with the Mona Lisa or Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
– David DeVoe