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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Leo Kottke, Mike Gordon "Clone" Review

Like a scene from “That Seventies Show”, we sat in someone’s basement, smoking Marbs or Luckies and watching the stack of wax fall every 22 minutes while the fight raged on:
“Ritchie Blackmoore is the greatest guitarist alive”, one ranted.
“Way not, man, Steve Howe SMOKES him.” This discourse raged on while the godfather of the eighth grade, known as ‘Wacky’, rocked back on the hind legs of his chair and smiled smugly.
“You guys have no idea what a great guitarist is.” Wacky waxed as he scratched the needle off Peter Frampton and removed the pile off the record changer. He pulled out an album with a funny looking guy in black and white juggling orange balls on the cover, Leo Kottke’s “My Feet are Smiling”, we never looked back.

Leo has just recorded with Phish bassist Mike Gordon, which at first glance is a fractured, almost schizophrenic work that divides itself into four parts, songs penned by Leo, by Mike, by both and covers.
As a bass player with 27 years experience, I would know better than to try and play with Leo Kottke. Mike finds this out, especially on the songs penned by both, where two busy instrumentalists sometimes ram each other with conflicting rhythms and unintentional discordance.

The Covers seem to be chosen by Leo and sound tight and smooth, with Leo getting less busy to concentrate on vocals and Mike getting tasty and simple like a good sideman.

When the Mike Gordon originals come around, one gets the impression the album is named “Clone” because Mike sings harmonies over his already mediocre voice, giving us two of a bad thing. These tunes are self indulgent and silly, though pleasant, and “The Collins Missile” is a cute story.

The Kottke originals are excellent, and Mike starts to ‘get it’ on these, sounding like the alternating thumb-played bass lines Leo uses on his ‘sounds like two guitars’ solo stuff.

I suspect this disc was burned in the order the tunes were recorded, as the first song is a bit of a train wreck, with both Leo and Mike lacking musical understanding of each other. As the disk progresses, both players learn and grow until, by the end they seem to trade places. On the Gordon instrumental “Whip” Mike thinks like Leo and the chugging , staccato, finger-style tune could have easily been penned by Kottke. On tunes toward the end Leo ‘steps away from the box’, lets some notes ring and plays a few jazz chords. He seems to get the Phish thing and it adds a new dimension to his style. I suspect future releases from both these gentlemen will reflect the lessons they learned here and we, the listeners, will reap that harvest.

I think that many listeners will just burn three or four songs off this disc, (different ones for different folks) but I believe I will always play it end to end, enjoying the twists and turns of this little sonic trip, and going where it wants to take me.