Mark Knopfler has a tendency to make magic when he picks up a guitar. If he's written a bad song or recorded a dud, I'm not aware of it. His work with Dire Straits, his solo work, and work composing film scores (I love the Wag the Dog soundtrack) is all fantastic. So when I say that All the Roadrunning is a stand-out in Knopfler's career, that's saying something.
I've been familiar with Knopfler since "Money for Nothing" was a big hit, but hadn't delved into the Dire Straits catalog or his solo work deeply until about 2010.
Harris is generally categorized as a country artist, which is a genre I don't generally find interesting. (Johnny Cash notwithstanding, and I put Cash in a category all his own anyway…) I've checked out some of her work since discovering Roadrunning, and been impressed with her work as well.
But the mash-up of Knopfler and Harris is just phenomenal. The opening track, "Beachcombing" is a mid-tempo ballad that melds Harris' beautiful voice with Knopfler's bluesy growl to perfection. The guitar is understated but essential.
"This is Us" is an upbeat duet with a driving beat and plenty of Knopfler's signature guitar work. If you're not tapping your toes or moving your body to this one, seek medical attention immediately. The live version on YouTube is even better than the album version, and must have been amazing live.
"Beyond My Wildest Dreams" has Knopfler taking the lead with Harris lending harmony. It's a slow, gentle song that you'll be humming to yourself when you think you've forgotten it.
Harris takes the reins on "Belle Starr," one of her songwriting contributions to the album. It's a rollicking piece, showcasing her vocal talents with Knopfler's guitar providing a solid foundation.
"All the Roadrunning" is another slow ballad that calls to mind the trials of touring life. Harris and Knopfler sell this one with the combined weight of many decades touring. Knopfler's guitar takes a backseat to the fiddle and the vocal interplay on this one.
There's not much in the way of outright rockers on Roadrunning. "Right Now" has a bit of a punch, and "Red Staggerwing" chugs right past energetically as a piece that'd be right at home in a country bar on Friday night.
Closing out the album, "If this is Goodbye" is another slow burn duet that brings together all the elements just right. It's the kind of closer that makes you sad the album is over, because the ride was just that good, and over too quickly.