The Ragpickers's Dream, the third solo album from the acclaimed leader of Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler, is a rootsy Americana-leaning epic about the working man. Knopfler, who has sold a staggering 108 million combined albums with Dire Straits, the Notting Hillbillies and solo, adds The Ragpicker's Dream to his legacy as one of rock's most admired artists.
Even at the peak of Dire Straits' fame, Mark Knopfler's music often seemed informed by a restless worldview as abstruse as his guitar playing was fluid and expressive. This follow-up to his impressive 2000 collection, Sailing to Philadelphia, finds Knopfler chasing a similar musical and lyrical muse, with results that are even more surprising and loose-limbed. "Why Aye Man," the bracing opening chantey that sets much of the album's tone, draws parallels between Geordie pub-speak and Native American chants whilst lamenting economic refugees of Thatcherism forced to ply their blue-collar trades--and keep their Brit pub culture alive--deep in the Fatherland. From there, Knopfler takes us by "A Place Where We Used to Live" for a lounge-y, Jobim-inflected reminder that one can never really go home, drops in on "Quality Shoe" for a tribute to Roger Miller, and gives us a typically dry, so-deadpan-it's-funny rundown of his Circus Sideshow pals on "Devil Baby." "Marbletown," a graveyard folk-blues, showcases the musician at home on solo acoustic guitar, while the loping, laconic "Coyote" draws its good-natured inspiration from a beast named Wile E. But it's the way that Knopfler connects disparate cultures and histories with subliminal, deceptively effortless grace on "Fare Thee Well Northumberland," "You Don't Know You're Born" (both of which feature Knopfler's signature languorous, blues-inflected soloing), the folksy "Hill Farmer's Blues," and the country-fried "Daddy's Gone to Knoxville" that make the album a triumph of understatement. --Jerry McCulley