In the music spotlight: Mark Knopfler

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BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR THE SUN-TIMES”

Mark Knopfler burst into pop culture with his band Dire Straits and the nimble guitar of “Sultans of Swing.” The song’s banjo-picking style established Knopfler as a different sort of guitar hero. Unhurried passages in songs like “Private Investigations” and melancholy “Brothers in Arms” proved Knopfler to be more interested in mastering melody and tone than flash. Comparisons to Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour emotive playing were common, with Knopfler’s style distinguished by immersion in folk styles beyond the blues.

The distorted riff of “Money for Nothing” became one of the ‘80s most recognizable hooks. The song’s computer-animated video was ubiquitous at MTV, and a performance with Sting was among Live Aid’s highlights.

Knopfler has provided memorable soundtracks to films like “The Princess Bride” and “Local Hero.” His production credits include Bob Dylan’s “Infidels” album. Knopfler’s prior Chicago appearance in 2012 supported Dylan at the United Center. The two joined forces for “Tangled Up in Blue” and collaborative deep cut “Blind Willie McTell.”

Often overshadowed during Knopfler’s early career were other qualities that fuel his staying power. His rough-hewn but comforting and conversational voice relate intricately crafted stories and character studies. Knopfler’s rich solo material is memorable for nuanced protagonists as much as elegant instrumental surroundings.

Let it All Go” from 2007’s “Kill to Get Crimson” is an old painter’s advice to a younger artist weighing a conventional job against lifetime vows of poverty and obscurity in pursuit of the muse. The song connects to Knopfler’s current album “Tracker,” which overflows with languid leads and meditations on time. The setting for “Basil” is Knopfler’s teenage job as a newspaper’s copyboy under Basil Bunting, writer of the epic poem “Briggflats.” Bunting reflects upon lost opportunities and the day’s drudgery, while his young assistant sees life’s potential unfolding before him.

The Dire Straits’ sound re-emerges during “Beryl,” while Knopfler examines the life of brilliant but under-appreciated English author Beryl Bainbridge.

* Mark Knopfler, 8 p.m., Oct. 2, Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State. $61–$116; thechicagotheatre.com.

SPOTIFY playlist: http://bit.ly/KnopflerSPOT

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.

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