Music Critiques: Studio albums by Dire Straits, Uncle Walt’s Band and Harry Dean Stanton

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(1991). The CDs are packaged in mini replicas of their original vinyl sleeves and contain posters with photos, art and text.

Mark Knopfler – the only founding member who stayed in the group to the end – is consistently the focus. He plays lead guitar, does the lead vocals and wrote all but one of the songs himself. (The exception is “Money for Nothing,” the group’s only US single where he shares composing with Sting, who is known to open the number by singing “I want my MTV”.) That doesn’t mean they sound like they do like Knopfler’s solo records or that his musicality is their only attraction; The band was a bit of a revolving door, but the people who went through it made a good match and knew how to deliver the goods.

The group kicked off with a bang with their best-selling first album, which includes the fresh-sounding “Sultans of Swing,” a top 5 hit, as well as “Down to the Waterline,” which leaves little doubt that Knopfler is a guitarist from large dimensions. Much of the rest of the record isn’t quite as impressive, but the band is just getting started here.

Communique has the expansive “Once Upon a Time in the West”, and Making Movies is full of sprawling, albeit narrowly constructed, vehicles for Knopfler’s guitar pyrotechnics, including the beautiful “Tunnel of Love” and “Romeo and Juliet”. The instrumental fireworks continue on Love Over Gold, which is particularly noteworthy for “Private Investigations” and the 14-minute “Telegraph Road”.

The two Grammy Award-winning Brothers in Arms, with their highly addictive, radio-friendly songs, sounds like an offer for greater commercial success, and it’s an offer that has no doubt succeeded beyond the band’s wildest dreams. It sold tens of copies on the basis of singles like “Money for Nothing” and “Walk of Life”, went platinum nine times in the US, topped the charts in America and many other countries, and for a while was the best-selling album in the UK History. The record is expertly performed and appealing, but not the Dire Straits’ best or most signature work to those ears.

On Every Street, which appeared three years later, was also a bestseller, if not on par with its predecessor. However, it contains more than enough powerful moments – like the majestic guitar work on “You and Your Friend” – that you are sorry the group split up after its release.

It’s nice to have all of these albums in one place, although it would have been even nicer if the compilers had included some bonuses, starting with the singles, EP tracks, and Knopfler solo material that the 1991 Sultans of Swing worked out: The Very Best of Dire Straits. However, given the low price of admission to this box (around $ 30 or $ 5 per CD), it’s hard to complain about. Additionally, the set has practically everything you really need from this band, with just one major exception: Alchemy, the group’s great 1984 live album.

Also remarkable

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Uncle Walt’s Band, recorded live at the Waterloo Ice House. This excellent 1982 concert recording is the latest in a series of expanded album re-releases from Uncle Walt’s Band, an acoustic trio that attracted a solid following in Austin, Texas in the late 70s and early 80s.

The set, which includes seven remastered songs from the original release as well as 14 previously unreleased tracks, leaves no question that (to quote the title of one of their other albums) “they sure could sing enough”. You could also write, as the preponderance of fine original material shows here. While rooted in folk, they were impressively eclectic: you can hear jazz and country influences in this concert, and the set also includes a bluesy cover of “Since I Fell for You,” the 1963 pop song released by Lenny Welch Hit.

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Harry Dean Stanton with the auspicious dates, October 1993. Harry Dean Stanton, who died in 2017 at the age of 91, was primarily an actor – and a busy actor, having roles in dozens of television shows and more than 100 films, including The Godfather Part II, Paris, Texas and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. But he also found time to make music, mostly in collaboration with the Kingbees’ Jamie James, who produced this collection of nine previously unreleased covers, four from the studio and five from a performance at the Troubadour in LA. The material is top notch. Stanton’s band includes talented players like Slim Jim Phantom (Stray Cats), Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan) and Tony Sales (Iggy Pop, David Bowie).

As for performances, the three opening tracks – studio covers of Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” and William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water” – are okay. But Ry Coeder’s great “Across the Borderline” shows Stanton’s vocal potential and the live set is consistently impressive. It includes raw versions of Warren Smith’s “Miss Froggie”, Berry’s “Never Can Tell” and Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City”, as well as beautiful readings of Phil Spector and Jerry Leiber’s classics “Spanish Harlem” and “Cancion Mixteca,” “A Mexican song that appears on the Paris, Texas soundtrack. The last two numbers in particular suggest that if Stanton had focused more on music, he might have gone as far in this area as he did in acting.