If you're missing Dire Straits—and who isn't?—then co-founder John Illsley's solo work is a good resort. When his debut Glass came out, I got it and liked it but wasn't particularly bowled over; just a good LP with quite listenable tracks and a favorable feel. Well, since then, he's been polishing the traits that made him indispensable in DS but also pushing the borders out to broaden his mellifluous wont. The damped-down Mexicalii brass in Tell Me, for instance, is a great touch, touring Herb Alpert through Madrid to get a distant bullfighting vibe mixed with sultry Mediterrannean warmth.
Illsley's voice here also takes on new dimensions, a cross between exposition and poetry, and not without a bit of the baroque here and there either, as in Streets of Heaven. One thing, though, becomes crystal clear: in Straits, Mark Knopfler's was the energy and sun while Illsley provided the moody mellifuity and lament. The combination of the two was what imbued the legendary band with its unique sound so attractive over many years, to so many ears, and for an enduring chart history. And Knopfler here dropped in for a couple of cuts, though much restrained each time out.
Streets of Heaven is perhaps somewhat misnamed, as there's actually a grey limbo feel to everything, a preternaturally purgatorial fog subduing into the blues-folk trademark that signals so much of Illsley's material, guaranteeing the listener that beautifully effulgent heartbreak we listener-dramaturges love to pine over. Thus, Streets marks the perfection of his slowly evolving trek to exactly this set of statements. More, it seems to mark the beginning of what should, hopefully, re-establish the gent as a worthy chart competitor and renew the old Dire Straits sound, because, now more than ever, the singer-player-songwriter has reshaped what brought he and Knopfler together in the first place. Mark may be going in new directions (soundtrack work, etc.), but John has re-invented the venerable old group, and I'm betting there's still a strong place in the market for it.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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