Knopfler and Harris? Sounds like a great combination with excellent catalogues. But sometimes the parts are greater than the sum.
Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris aren't exactly two peas in the same musical pod. So it was somewhat odd but alluring that the two of them would join forces not only for an album entitled All The Roadrunning, but also for a supporting North American and European tour. The album itself was critically acclaimed but still seemed to lack a bit of cohesion. It was a collaborative effort but often, with a few exceptions, that collaboration didn't transcend into the songs. Now, the tandem has released a live album and DVD package like damn near everyone else on the road today. And while the two do weave some interesting magic throughout, it feels like it is two stars performing at the same show, not necessarily two stars performing together.
The 75-minute collection wastes very little time getting into a groovy, classic, Knopfler-like shuffle on "Right Now", a blues-tinged ditty that has Harris almost restraining herself from stealing the lead vocals. Knopfler's guitar playing you could identify anywhere, and here some of his signature licks carry the tune from top to bottom, including just a touch of slide guitar. It's a good start, but it seems like Harris is playing second fiddle here, especially on the fiddle-driven hoedown "Red Staggering", which is basically a Knopfler solo tune with Harris sounding quite twangy in some spots. Think of something Mr. Dire Straits did with Chet Atkins circa Neck and Neck and the song should become clearer.
The first shining moment for Harris (and there are only a few) comes along with her delectable performance of the title track from her Red Dirt Girl album. Needing very little backing instrumentation, Harris' ethereal range shines on this rather depressing, somber tune. Perhaps the first time that the tandem works best is with the Celtic-laced "Done With Bonaparte" that complements both artists quite well, even with they are singing about Cossacks. And it also gives them almost equal time -- Harris to show her pipes and Knopfler to pick his guitar.
However, there are also some instances where each artist is left to themselves. And despite the best of intentions, you get the feeling that the songs could have been arranged to include the other in some manner. A perfect example of this is "Romeo and Juliet", which could have been an ideal time for a duet or at least splitting the verses between them. The song includes some terrific solo work from Knopfler and his trademark meticulous playing, but Harris is left off the song. They more than atone for this miscue by hitting paydirt together for a delightful, mid-tempo, and tender "All That Matters" from Knopfler's Shangri-La release. Here they do the give-and-take and the results are fantastic.
Perhaps the highlight of the album is the trio of tracks starting with "All That Matters" and leading into the rootsy but rather rampant "This Is Us", which chugs along like a well-oiled machine with Knopfler and Harris on the same page. And it's pure magic, as both hit that synergy one would expect a hell of a lot more on this album. The song slows down and closes with a bit of a whimper, but it's still very well executed. The final gem of the trilogy is the Celtic-tinged title track. Cherish this trio, though, for there are a couple of efforts that don't quite get off the ground, including the promising but disappointing "Speedway at Nazareth" that seems like Knopfler is caught running on autopilot as the song rumbles along like a car slowly leaking air from one of its front tires.
The album's homestretch closes with a couple of Dire Straits signatures, kicking off with "So Far Away", which still manages to work after all these years and all those performances. "Why Worry" wraps the CD portion up. The DVD contains three tracks not included on the album, highlighted by an excellent, hair-raising performance by Harris on "Born to Run". Overall, this is a release that will satisfy you but still makes one feel as if there's still something missing.