“Low key Dire Straits” would be a thumbnail review of this new album from bassist Illsley.
We saw him live a while back and don’t remember him as being so Dire Straits-ish but the guitar work and overall sound on this suggests that the signature Straits sound was as much his as Mark Knopfler’s.
It’s chilled, gentle and thoughtful music: it’s quite like some of Knopfler’s solo work and a bit like JJ Cale’s output. It doesn’t sound like a veteran resting on his laurels but he breaks no new ground either; we’d guess he won’t attract many new fans outside his own and the Straits’ fanbase.
It opens with string-led instrumental piece Morning, which sets the tone for it being a thoughtful, slow album. First song proper In The Darkness is so Dire Straits-like that it’s a surprise when Illsley’s voice appears and not Knopfler’s huskier rasp. (Guitar is courtesy of session player Simon Johnson, with slide from former Pretender Robbie McIntosh).
Much of the album is like that, with a similar sound to the Straits throughout, and the same subtlety and arrangement, though it perhaps has a touch more of the blues. Lyrically we don’t know but Illsley said in the Press notes that he was inspired by “the obvious political and social elements which have always concerned me.”
Knopfler doesn’t appear but it was mixed in his British Grove Studios, and former Dire Straits/Knopfler keyboard player Guy Edward Fletcher plays and sings.
Local angle: drummer Paul Beavis once played with Sandbach’s Nigel Stonier on a Thea Gilmore/Sandy Denny album.