Some would suggest that Dire Straits grew to be little more than a backing band for frontman Mark Knopfler. But Knopfler's latest, Sailing to Philadelphia, suggests that his former group merely represented part of the Knopfler sound. Golden Heart, Knopfler's 1996 solo outing, stuck closely to the Straits sound, but Philadelphia travels a more diverse musical path, combining influences in new ways. He mixes Mexican inflections and jazzy flugel horn on "El Macho." Country and darkly hued rock meet on "Speedway to Heaven." Van Morrison even puts his Irish-soul stamp on "The Last Laugh." The title song, which pairs Knopfler and James Taylor on lead vocals, could have been written for Simon & Garfunkel.
One thing that remains a constant about Knopfler's work is the quality of the songwriting and playing. Philadelphia leaves only one criticism, that the performances and sonics are almost too perfect.