One Deep River is the tenth solo album by British musician Mark Knopfler after a six year gap. He takes the helm for the album, with Jim Cox and Guy Fletcher on keyboards, Glenn Worf on bass, Ian Thomas on drums and Danny Cummings on percussion. The diversity of musicianship that has been assembled is immense, with a unified skill base that defies words and is going to be best understood watching them perform as a band live on stage.

Exploring methods of performance through unique grooves is something Knopfler loves to do. Pioneering the fingerpicking method to create a warm, flesh derived tone that has depth and mellow comfort, no one has exactly mastered except him. It is his unique vision of the fretboard and strings that have led to the brilliant solos on songs like ‘Lady Writer’, ‘Brothers in Arms’, ‘Telegraph Road’ and of course, ‘Sultans of Swing’. Mark Knopfler also has the ability to tap into the frequency of his fellow performers on tracks, leading to a very special take on the main melody. Listen to ‘Sailing to Philadelphia’, and there is a sharing of skill and sound while having that signature “human touch” that Knopfler’s memorable melodies have to this day. One Deep River was produced by Knopfler and his longstanding collaborator Guy Fletcher and recorded at his own studio in London. All the songs are also written by Knopfler.

The spectacle you are privy to with this record is musicians that are lifers in their art, and it is honestly a privilege to hear them play and perform.  Richard Bennett assists on guitar, with newcomer Greg Leisz on pedal and lap steel; Mike McGoldrick provides whistle and uilleann pipes, John McCusker plays fiddle, while the Topolski sisters Emma and Tamsin add backing vocals. Knopfler himself says “with this band, very often the first take is THE take” in relation to the recording process One Deep River. Leisz also states that, “Mark likes to let the musicians think for themselves and let them play what they think they should play”. Knopfler’s attention to detail as well as his exceptional set of ears helps guide the musicians and the direction of the album like a steady hand on the tiler of the ship. Leisz goes on to say, “Mark knows every detail of the playback and the finished result and whether it works or not”.

The studio is where Knopfler seems most at home these days. A master of his domain that has a fine line of artistic spontaneity, with a twist of a let’s relax and let the art grow attitude. “The individual songs you could see coming together very quickly,” says Knopfler. “With a band like that you’re playing a game where you are making an album whether you like it or not!” The pace as he mentions can almost be too fast for him, so therefore he prefers to slow down the process by recording at his home studio and have time to breathe, rather than push it along due to budgetary restrictions. After all, Knopfler states, “the worst thing would be to rush.”

John McCusker whom plays violin on the album also reflected on the unusual recording environment. “Most recordings are very rushed, where [here] Mark and Guy have created this thing when we record something they say ‘Lets listen to that tomorrow’, because you hear it differently the next day, it’s a different head space and that’s a beautiful luxury to have when making a record.” In relation to the title One Deep River, Knopfler reflects that he had not seen a direct connection to the record and the river, “Crossing the Tyne is always on your mind,” he says. “It’s what you were doing when you were leaving as a youngster and that feeling is always the same every time you do it. You’re heading out or you’re coming back, and it just connects with your childhood. The power of it doesn’t go away.” The sonic depth presented on this album is the most direct link to the title on the initial few listens.



The first track ‘Two Pair Of Hands’ is taut and lean, with the choppy guitar lines boasting his trademark tone. That signature lead guitar line over a chugging rhythm accompanies his familiar drawl. As a listener you are instantly drawn into the sound, very addictive without being an ear worm. The track opens an album full of lyrical poignancy, with a depth of world-weariness that almost becomes dreamlike to the listener. His vocals and most certainly that guitar connect back to Dire Straits, but only in their quietest, most reflective moments of their catalogue. The opening ‘Two Pairs of Hands’ finds him again referencing J.J. Cale’s nonchalant rhythmic strum, bubbling with congas and his snakelike guitar slithering through a song about the difficulties of leading a band on stage with thousands watching. It’s classic Knopfler and it’s beautiful. ‘Two Pairs of Hands’ lands in that most familiar groove, like sinking into Sheldon’s spot on the couch. The sneaky groove and ringing guitar are trademark Knopfler, as he tries to explain what it’s like leading a band that’s playing to a packed house, resorting to that old saying “I’ve only got two pairs of hands.

The single ‘Ahead of the Game’ continues the lazy mid-tempo groove of the opening song meaning we are on familiar territory. In this enduring quiet, Knopfler has done a lot of looking back but not into the histories of aging figures and long-ago characters, connecting their struggles, heartbreaks and occasionally triumphs to the present. As an artist he always had an itinerant life and that probably plays a role in his lingering fascination with wanderers, whether they’re running from or toward something. One Deep River explores the more contemplative side of Americana with the addition of Leisz on pedal and lap steel and McCusker on violin through a distinctive U.K. lens with McGoldrick adding the whistle and uilleann pipes. It doesn’t matter that they’re all cut from the same cloth, because it’s a brilliant cloth, part Dylan, part folk, part stadium melancholy that really works sonically.



Piano and background vocals imbue the buoyant track ‘Smart Money’, which has all those Knopfler traits of infectious melodicism, unhurried but spot-on fretwork, and his eminently cool, understated vocals. ‘Scavenger’s Yard’ plays to an impossibly funky groove with spiralling, twisting guitar surfing above the insistent backbeat as the story unwinds with its blues references, “In Scavengers Yard the wild things roam/Welcome-the bag man’s home/You’ll find down on the killing floor.” Invariably, a slow waltz follows with Knopfler crooning through ‘Black Tie Jobs’, using just a few well-placed sustained guitar notes to colour the tune.

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 a narrative set on the rails. Captivating stories are told in ‘Tunnel 13’, almost like Knopfler was a fly on the wall. The ethereal track places his signature voice front and the center with a largely acoustic, spare accompaniment, burnished by Leisz’s deft touches. He writes pages in diaries, as heard in songs like ‘Janine’. Knopfler continues the Western motif with the tale of a boomtown gone bust and a busted love with ‘Janine’, with his soaring guitar inevitably evoking the score of Local Hero. Leisz colours the humble, but rather sly recounting of presumably how his career rocketed upward in ‘Watch Me Gone’ with references to Dylan and Van in these lines – “Well maybe I’ll hit the road with Bob/Or maybe hitch a ride with Van.” The backgrounds giving a soft edge to the chorus. The gently swaying ‘Before My Train Comes’ is the third song that invokes trains, this time a nod to mortality.

As an experienced songwriter and someone so well-travelled, he knows the words that will have effect and affect. They are used precariously, with a powerful desired aura. The song ‘This One’s Not Going to End Well’ finds Knopfler on the open sea. One Deep River as an artistic statement is here to create enveloping narratives more than getting your toes to tap. ‘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. delivered with a heartfelt yearning for exploration; one that is not tossed aside just because the route has been navigated before, but because the horizon has shifted, the terms of life have altered, and there is so much more to say and emotionally feel. Songs like ‘Watch Me Gone’, you can feel the space and time he leaves for harmonics and slide guitar aspects. As he goes into the tepid serenity of a lake from the river, you can still feel the rush of the river. Knopfler has gone on to deliver a soul stirring album that shows us how truly strong his song writing skills have developed. This was the last song to feature Jeff Beck before his death, and has parts from almost every guitar legend present imaginable. It is a legacy that is enviable, heart-warming and truly has moved with the times.

‘One Deep River’, as a track as well as the album title 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 the track ‘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. One Deep River doesn’t necessarily break new ground for Mark Knopfler, but it does add a clutch of well-written, impeccably played songs to his canon of work. Listening to Knopfler playing the guitar is like watching silk cloth in a gentle breeze; fluid and gorgeous with a shimmer of light. One Deep River is one of Knopfler’s best records to date with these gorgeous songs, sung in a voice that sounds like it’s lived a life that’s full. This is an album not to be missed and listened to in its entirety more than once.


One Deep River was followed by a standalone EP on April 20th’s Record Store Day called The Boy, containing four exclusive songs around a common theme of fairgrounds and boxing. Shop here.