Musician, September 1989

Record Review: My Father's Face

      Good thing that Leo Kottke's got a great sense of humor, because he's going to be haunted by geese farts till the day he dies. The guitarist compared his voice to them back in '69, on the liner to 6 and 12 String Guitar, and Leo -- babe -- if you hadn't brought it up, we never woulda thunk it. Twenty years later, on his third album for a new-age label, the barn door's open and the geese are farting again.

      This is as it should be. While Kottke's been hard at work honing his unique guitar style -- not to mention being busy making an honest living -- others have borrowed from him (and from John Fahey, Peter Lang, even Sandy Bull), dressed up their respective ramblings with digital sound and boring cover landscapes and confused the hell out of anyone who ever thought they liked hearing an acoustic guitar. So after two instrumental albums with bassist Buell Neidlinger producing -- nifty albums that might as well have had "File Under New Age" stamped larger than Kottke's name on the covers, because Private Music releases that kind of music and mall record store clerks are getting younger ever day -- T-Bone Burnett has stepped in, brought Los Lobos' David Hidalgo with him and unleashed the geese on close to half the songs on this record.

      What we end up with is a largely improved version of Time Step, Kottke's final Chrysalis album, released in '83 and also produced by Burnett. Sure, there's a new-age spin to be found on My Father's Face, but despite the odd glockenspiel and tympani, this is Kottke's admittedly strange vision of pop music, and it works. Most notably on "Jack Gets Up," I'd say, which successfully combines the near-psycho lyrical premises of Neil Young's "Last Dance" and Leonard Cohen's "Dress Rehearsal Rag" into a strangely mirthful spoken verse that includes the album's title and bonus shaving references. No one else could -- or would want to -- release this song, which is its ultimate charm.

      That Kottke once recorded the near-gloomiest dirge of the '70s -- Greenhouse's "Tiny Island," which I only mention because you really ought to hear it -- and still manages to give his albums names like Regards from Chuck Pink, speaks volumes about letting the geese fart where and when they may. In or out of the new age, Leo Kottke still isn't walking like a duck, and we should be grateful. -- Dave DiMartino

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