All the Roadrunning

Studio Album by released in 2006

All the Roadrunning review

Seamless work with a comfortable, old-school-session feel about it

They hardly make the most obvious pairing, Emmylou's piercing, plaintive melodies and Knopfler's dusky, mid-Atlantic drone, the one able to soar around an intricate bluegrass harmony, the other confined to what color charts term 'earthy tones'. Still, when one inveterate collaborator meets another, things happen. For the past seven years, Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris have been quietly compiling a treasure trove of duets – the result, All the Roadrunning. Primarily written by Knopfler, the recording features a dozen songs beautifully demonstrating the pair's contrasting vocal styles. All the Roadrunning is not a high-concept, elaborately planned superstar summit, but a collection of intimate musical encounters recorded in the US, whenever these two already legendary artists could steal a few moments away from the demands of their hectic careers. This long-range collaboration culminated in 2005 with a solid week in the studio, where they cut more tracks and decided upon a final line-up before Mark took everything back home with him to mix in London. The result is far more than just a miracle of scheduling: it sounds like destiny, a record they were meant to make. Despite the time and distance between recording dates, All the Roadrunning comes across as a seamless work, with a comfortable, old-school-session feel about it.

Effortless statements of vitality from Knopfler and Harris

Beachcombing, which leads off the album, appears to have a topical bent, given imagery that suggests the damage of Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 Tsunami, but Mark points out that the song predates those events. It's a song about loss, both physical and emotional. The climactic track, If This Is Goodbye, however, is definitely rooted in our modern history, inspired by a sober and eloquent piece, Beyond Belief, that the English novelist Ian McEwan had written for London's The Guardian some days after 9/11. It's a subtle and respectful track and, as Emmylou characterizes it, "a song of healing". Mark and Emmylou bring a lighter touch to tracks like Red Staggerwing and Belle Star, evoking the kind of teasing, affectionate banter that June Carter and Johnny Cash traded. The gentle Donkey Town gives the ex-Dire Straits leader a chance to flex his country muscle, while the wistful title track spotlights the lovely Harris. The two couldn't be more at odds vocally, but Knopfler's laconic drawl is like an easy chair for Harris' fluid pipes, and standout tracks like This Is Goodbye, Beachcombing, and the infectious single This Is Us come off as effortless statements of vitality from both camps.

Straight-from-life stories make All The Roadrunning essential listening

This duets collection affirms it: good things come to those who wait. These are tunes with deep emotional bottoms. You'll laugh. You'll cry. And, most of all, you'll be glad these two found each other. Mark shared production chores with engineer-mixer Chuck Ainlay, who's manned the boards for Dire Straits (On Every Street) and all of Knopfler's solo recordings. The arrangements they fashioned were evocative and understated, featuring plenty of Mark's signature guitar work while focusing the spotlight on those two instantly recognizable voices. Besides the sheer pleasure of this remarkable duo's harmonies, it's the underlying emotions, the straight-from-life stories Harris and Knopfler brought to the studio that make All the Roadrunning essential listening. They're often wistful, worldly-wise songs about resilient characters who have lived more than a little but remain determined to carry on. They have the heart-tugging appeal and durability of great country ballads while avoiding obvious sentimentality or nostalgia. Much like its creators, All the Roadrunning never calls attention to its charms, instead simply laying them out without pretense, allowing the pleasures to seep into the system on their own.