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Mark Knopfler

The last person I expected to produce a profound musical document about the Death of the American Dream was Mark Knopfler. His Top 40 hits--"Sultans of Swing," "Money for Nothing"--continue to be overplayed on jukeboxes and classic-rock radio stations across the country. Theoretically, this means Knopfler is filthy rich and should just get out of the way to make room for younger, hungrier artists.

Shangri-La, however, is a lush oasis of literate, heartbreaking songs buoyed by some of the most exquisite guitarwork (acoustic, electric, dobro, nylon-string, mandolin) outside of a Red House Painters album. It opens with a dead gangster lying in the front seat of his bullet-riddled Mark 10 Jaguar in the dawn's early light, all of it a symbol of the dark side of our relentless pursuit of happiness.

Then there's "Boom, Like That"--the story of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc as told from the burger tycoon's perspective: "Sometimes you gotta be an SOB / if you wanna make a dream reality."

"Sucker Row" approaches the myth of Las Vegas from a pitiless vantage, as the collective voice of the casino industry takes stock of its "customers" and its disposable employees, and the title track resonates against what former vice presidential candidate John Edwards says when he talks about how "America's lights are flickering":

"We may never love again / To the sound of guitars / In our Shangri-La."

All this, plus odes to Elvis ("Back to Tupelo") and a famous pugilist ("Song for Sonny Liston")? Stone-cold brilliant.

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