DIRE STRAITS. The guitar-driven, chart-topping Brothers in Arms became the first big blockbuster of the digital era, signifying that the CD format had crossed over to the mainstream. And now, the 20th Anniversary Edition on DualDisc (Warner Bros.; Music •••••, DualDisc Mix •••••, Extras ½) enhances the album's stat-us as a sonic benchmark. The six-channel mix (in high-rez DVD-Audio) - by Mark Knopfler's longtime cohort Chuck Ainlay - is an enveloping, expansive, and exciting experience.
A gyrating keyboard figure pans clockwise through the main channels during the opening buildup to the iconic "Money for Nothing." Sizzling cymbals dart inside the swamp-life buzz of "Ride Across the River." Throughout the album, Knopfler's biting, authoritative guitar - whether acoustic (the insistent "The Man's Too Strong") or electric (the subwoofer-friendly "One World") - slashes and burns mostly in the front channels, with just the right touch of delay in the surrounds. And his vocals lend a distinctive character to each song. A yearning, disembodied, echo-laden voice stamps "So Far Away," while the keyboard-drenched title track is awash in whispery resignation.
Over the years, I must have listened to this album no fewer than 500 times - and this is the first time I've noticed the military drum-roll snare that reinforces the main beat in the lengthy coda to "Why Worry." No worries here at all, except for the lamest trick: an embarrassing lack of extras on this DualDisc (other than an onscreen essay). The album's four popular videos should have been the minimum treat.
MARK KNOPFLER. Both 2000's Sailing to Philadelphia (Warner Bros.; Music ••••, DVD-Audio Mix ••••, Extras •••½) and 2004's Shangri-La (Warner Bros.; Music ••••, DVD-A Mix ••••, Extras ••••) boast supportive mixes by Chuck Ainlay that complement Knopfler's deliberately low-key solo career. Philadelphia is crisp and atmospheric: you'll feel the "Sands of Nevada" blowing through the surround channels. Meanwhile, Shangri-La puts you right in the middle of the band's live-in-the-studio oasis. "Boom, Like That" will tag you from all corners.
RORY GALLAGHER. The late Irish ax-slinger comes out blazing on the two-disc Big Guns: The Very Best of Rory Gallagher (Capo/Sony BMG; Music ••••, SACDs •••). The uncredited mix has a number of liberal moments - not in an adventurous sense, but in the way that riffs and vocals lean to the left (front and rear), as on the searing "Calling Card" and the unreleased live barnburner "Bullfrog Blues." Regardless, Gallagher's fretboard fire and verve remain intact.
BEN FOLDS. As ever, he attacks the piano with the kinetic vigor of a lead guitarist. But Songs for Silverman (Epic; Music ••••, DualDisc Mix •••½, Extras •••½), his first album with a band since the Ben Folds Five era, also shows him letting down his guard as a songwriter, and the vulnerability provides counterpoint to his more sardonic riffing. "Gracie," for example, is a sweet ode to his daughter, whereas "Bastard" skewers shallow yuppie wannabes. Michael Brauer's mix is very lively, and it benefits Lindsay Jamieson's drumming in particular. "You to Thank," with its collision of keyboards and percussion, is a tour de force in surround. A 25-minute documentary (with studio and stage material) is an entertaining extra, but the bonus "strings version" of "Landed" is no big deal.
KEANE. Admittedly, a little of the British trio's earnestness can go a long way, but Nathaniel Kunkel's inventive mix puts a fresh, revealing spin on Hopes and Fears (Interscope; Music •••, DualDisc Mix ••••, Extras •••½). Tom Chaplin's vocals stream equally from the center and surround channels, while keyboards and drums are arrayed across the sound field, making for an airy, spatially ingenious listening experience. You'll savor the sweetly effusive "Somewhere Only We Know" as never before. Subtle sonic touches - such as the keys that ricochet from back to front on "Sunshine" - beckon throughout the album. Four videos are offered, including U.S. and U.K. versions of "Somewhere."