|Rolling Stone, November 16, 1978|
Record Review: Burnt Lips
In a musical age dominated by castrato wails run through computers by technologists who've been reading Popular Electronics since the age of six months, Leo Kottke has the courage to sing in a baritone with a range of about five notes -- and even those he doesn't hit all the time. This is exactly the way I sing, and it really cools me out to dissonate along with Kottke. You feel there's an actual human being in the record grooves to commute with. Hence, I like Burnt Lips (his second album on Chrysalis after seven with Capitol) a whole lot, better than his first, because he didn't sing on the first one at all.
Another reason I like Kottke is that he sings about death and betrayal. He handles these subjects with a slightly surrealistic sense of cynicism and tends to look on the former as the antidote to the latter. Side one opens with Nick Lowe's "Endless Sleep" and Bob Nolan's "Cool Water," both of which present death in peaceful, attractive terms. By the end of the side, which closes with Kottke's own "Everybody Lies" and "I Called Back" (two songs that show the bleaker side of little social betrayals), endless sleep does indeed seem a nice alternative.
Side two is mostly instrumental, with "A Low Thud," "Burnt Lips" and "The Train and the Gate: from Terry's Movie" the standout tracks. Kottke is among our best guitar players and can get an amazing variety of sounds out of an acoustic twelve-string. His sense of melody is always interesting and often quite engaging. Even in his most depressing songs, Kottke's finger picking gives you reason to live.
I don't hear a hit single on Burnt Lips, unless "Sonora's Death Row" gets bought by a lot of cowboys who are into feeling sorry for themselves. Not that Leo Kottke has ever had a hit single, but he came close with a wonderful cover of Tom T. Hall's "Pamela Brown" a few years ago. Maybe if Kottke tours hard enough, he can pick up the extra fans he deserves. They aren't likely to hear him on the radio. -- Charles Young
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