The album’s at its best when it feels like you’re sitting on a casual strum, Knopfler singing either in the style of or actual re-creations of ancient folk songs. “Why Aye Man”, “Hill Farmer’s Blues”, “Fare Thee Well Northumberland” and “Marbletown” appear to be sung by tradesmen away from home, without seeming repetitive. However, when he adds more rock to the mix, as on “Coyote” and “You Don’t Know You’re Born”, it gets a little tedious, except for the chorus.
He’s careful not to stick too close to a couple of styles. “Devil Baby” takes place in a circus, and the same wacky scene inhabits “Old Pigweed”. “A Place Where We Used To Live” is more timeless, even jazzy, while on “Daddy’s Gone To Knoxville” and the sales pitch of “Quality Shoe”, he sounds uncannily like Leon Redbone. He even sneaks in an original Christmas song for the title track, without limiting it to the usual clichés.
A little shaving here and there might even put The Ragpicker’s Dream on a higher level, but for what it is, it’s a nice, comfortable listen. Save it for your next rainy day and see how it goes down.
Mark Knopfler The Ragpicker’s Dream (2002)—3