|Crawdaddy, May-June 1974|
Record Review: Ice Water
Things have changed with the new one, Ice Water. His voice has gained a certainty and lightness that project each song. He is able to treat such standards as Tom T. Hall's "Pamela Brown" and "Born to Be with You" with the compassion and humor the songs deserve. The vocals are relaxed, never stretching the credibility in search of a twang.
Besides improving his singing, Kottke has begun to learn to use the studio. The sound is richer than on any of his past albums. The rhythm section is up front, intensifying, and Cal Hand, the dobroist, adds a relaxed spacious slide that serves as the perfect means to underscore Kottke's wall of sound.
The production fails in one way: Kottke has overdubbed several single-string solos; his forte is his easily recognized fingerpicking, and the solos seem pale and pedestrian in comparison to the instrumentals. He borrows a Roger McGuinn line for "You Tell Me Why" and a funk r&b sound for "You Know I Know You Know" -- both are fine displays of eclecticism, though they sound overly stylized.
This eclecticism can be a problem. Kottke insists on being more than a highly individualized singer/guitar-player. He borrows heavily from all styles, leaving the sense sometimes that he'd rather show off than develop a theme. Kottke was brilliant -- or unfortunate -- enough to define his sound with his first record.
The bits and pieces approach words well on the instrumental "Short Stories." The cut is just that, short glimpses of country, rag time, blues and bagpipe music. Despite the rapid changes the cut never loses its totally organic sense. Hand's dobro is the equal of Kottke's playing. Neither sounds stylized, each musical vignette appearing as a natural vehicle for the musicians' talents.
And Kottke is the superlative guitarist. He has explored various roots to develop the flashiest non-flash style in music. With his ever-present dry wit, Kottke satirizes his own playing, excusing his talent in the semi-autobiographical "Ted Billings and The Student Prince." "...saw a guitar in a pawn shop window/Not much to look at but he knew that he'd found/The Old Student Prince that they made years ago/...It was amazing how a mere beginner/Could play just a few notes and sound like a pro." Needless to say, the cut contains the brief tastes of "Jambalaya" that have marked each of Kottke's records.
Thus, despite his minor fascination with eclecticism Leo Kottke has provided a sensitive picture of outstanding virtuosity and composition. -- Alan Rosoff
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