Mark Knopfler's One Deep River is an album of lyrical poignancy, with a depth of world-weariness that almost becomes dreamlike. His vocals and most certainly that guitar connect back to Dire Straits, but only in their quietest, most reflective moments.

It's as if he left simply to downshift. In this enduring quiet, Knopfler has done a lot of looking back – but not to his hitmaking former group. No, he's looking much further back – back into the histories of aging figures and long-ago characters, connecting their struggles, heartbreaks and (only very occasional) triumphs to the present. He's always had an itinerant life and that probably plays a role in Knopfler's lingering fascination with wanderers, whether they're running from or toward something.

Yet age catches up with all of them – even rock 'n' rollers. So, One Deep River remains plugged in but explores the more contemplative side of Americana (Greg Leisz plays pedal and lap steel, John McCusker is on violin) through a distinctive U.K. lens (Mike McGoldrick adds the whistle and uilleann pipes). Similarly, nothing here is root-bound. "Tunnel 13," with its lengthy meditation on a real-life bandit trio's lifetime of adventure, and "Before My Train Comes" are both set on the rails. "This One's Not Going to End Well" finds Knopfler on the open sea.

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What holds this restless cast together is Knopfler's wizened presence. His voice has always had an ageless yet very aged quality. Even on his earliest singles with Dire Straits, Knopfler came off like this knowing sage. The only drawback to One Deep River, if it even is one, is that he occasionally also had a playfulness back then, and that's been conveyed to a far lesser degree on subsequent solo projects. Oh, Knopfler offers a wink or two, but One Deep River is here to create enveloping narratives more than get toes to tap. So, "This One's Not Going to End Well" is set aboard a slave trader's ship, rather than seekers of new lands. "Sweeter Than the Rain" wrestles with some unspoken ask that tries a man's faith in himself. Even the loping J.J. Cale-esque "Two Pairs of Hands" is grizzled and knowing, rather than expectedly celebratory.

A river runs through it. The album and title track both reference the Tyne, which bisects Knopfler's childhood hometown of Newcastle, England, while also creating a powerful boundary image between past and present: There's no going back. Yet with "Ahead of the Game," Knopfler makes clear that he still finds solace in song. One Deep River simply confirms that those songs will arrive on their own more slow-moving currents.

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Gallery Credit: Corey Irwin

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