In 1990, guitar legend Chet Atkins teamed with fellow guitar legend Mark Knopfler for a combination instrumental/vocal project that would be released in September of that year, under the title, Neck and Neck. Released by Columbia, the album sold reasonably well, peaking at twenty-seven on the Billboard Country Album chart. It’s also worth noting some of the talent that appeared as session musicians, including no less than Vince Gill, Steve Wariner, Floyd Cramer, and Mark O’Connor.
“Poor Boy Blues” is a good, up tempo start to the album, featuring a sound that appropriately enough, that is a mixture of country music and the Dire Straits (Knopfler’s band) style, while featuring vocals by both artists.
There are some covers on the album, including a couple of Don Gibson classics. “Sweet Dreams” is a slow, dreamy instrumental that is arguably the top cut on the disc. Meanwhile, “Just One Time” comes off okay, but the vocals don’t quite reach the same level as Gibson’s classic recording, nor that of Connie Smith’s.
Unfortunately, they miss the mark on “Yakety Axe”. For those who remember Chet’s original hit single from 1965, or for that matter, the original Boots Randolph recording (as “Yakety Sax”), will know what a great song this is to highlight great guitar work. However, they decided to try to make a vocal out of it, and even though there is an instrumental part at the end, it just doesn’t work. It’s too bad they just didn’t fire up the picks and go all out on this song. This feels like a really missed opportunity.
Another cover, here, is a 1925 hit for bandleader Isham Jones, “I’ll See You in My Dreams”. The instrumental is a nice, light, mid-tempo track that is among the album’s highlights.
“Tears”, Tahitian Skies”, and “So Soft, Your Goodbye” are other solid instrumentals, with the latter featuring some stellar guitar work by both Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler.
“There’ll Be Some Changes Made” is a playful, bouncy track, that features some witty bantering between the two.
The disc wraps up with one more vocal, “The Next Time I’m In Town”. Mark Knopfler does the main singing and this is his best vocal on the disc.
This is an album where the overall result is good, but you can’t help but feel there could have been more. While the vocal work is okay, one really wishes they would have concentrated on featuring their outstanding abilities with guitars, which when allowed, complement each other nearly flawlessly. I give this album a 3 out of 5. There are a couple of misses, a couple of outstanding pieces of work, while the rest of the album falls into the good-to-very good range.
There are better Chet Atkins albums, but this one is good, and worth giving several listens, especially the instrumental tracks.
About Thy Author
Mike the Country Musicologist is a lifelong music and radio fanatic, lover of vintage agriculture, and big sports fan, including the Colts, Reds, Hurricanes, Pacers, Purdue & Butler Universities. He has collected records since childhood, focusing on classic country and top 40 oldies music. After convincing Vincennes University in Indiana to give him an Associate’s Degree in broadcasting, he has spent most of his adult life on the radio, having worked for several stations in Indiana and North Carolina, including his current gig, hosting the weekly World Famous Ultimate Twang Radio Show. The show is heard Thursdays, 4-7p ET on WSFM-LP/AshevilleFM, which is at 103.3 FM in Asheville, North Carolina, as well as online at ashevillefm.org.