Name as many acts as you can where the lead singer, main songwriter and lead guitarist are the same person. The list is pretty short. For my money, and there’s not too much of it, Mark Knopfler has to be right at the top of the list. Beginning with the opening licks on ‘Sultans of Swing’ he has displayed a instantly recognizable guitar sound and style as well as an ability to weave intricate and detailed stories in his songs.
One of his most underrated abilities is the deft accompanist touch he brings to both his own and to other people’s songs. A master of the deceptively simple three or four note phrase, he accentuates the harmony and the emotion of a song subtly and with passion. With hammer-ons and pull-offs based on chord forms and subtle extensions he adds fills and lines that are lyrical. While he can burn through speedy passages with his finger picking style in solo mode, his expressiveness and restrained sensibility playing behind the singer is what seals the deal for me.
Listen to songs like “Brothers in Arms”, “Sailing to Philadelphia”, “All the Roadrunning” and “Punish the Monkey”, to name just a few. Knopfler has built a career in the tradition of the English balladeer, telling stories, composing songs that build in musical intensity as the lyric does the same. He is a folk singer with the heart of rocker. There are a lot of lessons for the serious accompanist there, lessons on finding your own voice while still serving the song.