April 23, 1990 12:00 PM

The Notting Hillbillies

Geez, what’s next? Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and Phil Collins banding together as the Rambling Tewksburys? First we had the Traveling Wilburys, with Petty, Dylan, Harrison, Orbisonand ELO’s Jeff Lynne noodling around, and now this quartet produces a surprisingly bland homage to American hillbilly music. Mark Knopfler has joined two old chums from Leeds—studio guitarists Brendan Croker and Steve Phillips—and recruited Guy Fletcher from Dire Straits to supply the keyboards. (The group’s name comes from Knopfler’s home recording studio in London’s Notting Hill Gate.) Most of the album is a big shrug, which is disappointing because Knopfler has always shown a keen intuition for the subtleties of American country music.

One of the better cuts, in fact, is a Knopfler original, the moody “Your Own Sweet Way.” But then the Hillbillies take an old song, “One Way Gal,” and turn it into a hodgepodge that sounds Hawaiian in parts and calypsoized in others. They fare better on the Delmore Brothers’ “Blues Stay Away from Me” with some graceful harmonies sent straight up from a country hollow in the Ozarks. One wishes that kind of feeling was more prevalent here. If this is supposed to be a celebration of “lost” American music, Knopfler and Co. have found only the raw materials, not the true spirit of the genre. (Warner Bros.)

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