San Jose Mercury News (July 11, 1997)
Kottke departs from his stripped-down sound

by Yoshi Kato
Special to the Mercury News

            Leo Kottke will bring his wit and humor, plus a guitar, to the Great American Music Hall Wednesday and Thursday.

      Fans of guitarist Leo Kottke's mighty slide technique and furious strumming won't be disappointed when they hear his latest disk, "Standing in My Shoes." But they'll probably be a little surprised.

      The 51-year old guitar wizard, who plays San Francisco and Santa Cruz next week, is in typically fine form on his 24th album, playing acoustic six- and 12-string as well as some sitar. He adds his unassuming, low-end vocals on three of the album's 11 tracks and tackles Fleetwood Mac's "World Turning" and the standard "Corrina, Corrina." Nothing too unusual.

      What may catch many off-guard, however, is the album's production, which incorporates samples, loops and programs on some o fits tracks. And while the folk-blues virtuoso hasn't gone so far as to add contemporary drum and bass stylings (a la Everything But the Girl and David Bowie), he does explore plenty of modern recording techniques, with guidance from Minneapolis-based produced David Z.

      By phone from his home in Minneapolis, Kottke recalled an earlier period when the two long-time friend were working at the Twin Cities' Studio 80. "David was working down the hall with Prince, who was, I think , 16 at the time. It was a couple beards before he put out a record, and I was working on my records; so, we'd all see each other in the halls," he says.

      Kottke refers to "Standing in My Shoes" as his "rhythm record." "To me, it's a rhythm record, not because we have a rhythm section (the crack team of drummer Greg Morrow and bassist David Smith), but because of the material I'm playing," he says.

      Kottke was inspired to focus on his rhythm technique by two fellow guitarists. On a couple of occasions, he had the opportunity to tour with the late jazz legend Joe Pass. "Joe was really interested in my right hand. He said, 'Boy, you got some nice things in there.' And it just about bowled me over, 'cause it was Joe Pass. And John McLaughlin told me the same thing. Once I was raving about something he'd just done, and he said, 'Well, I'm as interested in your right hand as you are in my left.'

      "(The right hand), of course, is where a large part of the rhythm is. It's one of the stronger things I do, and it's something neglected by a lot of other players --- or they just have other ideas. So I just through it was time to concentrate on that side of things."

      While it employs new recording techniques, "Standing in My Shoes" also offers a few classics from the Kottke songbook. The title track is a more mellow yet more confident reworking of a song he recorded in 1971. Kottke also takes another crack at one of his calling cards, "Vaseline Machine Gun," which was recorded two years earlier.

      "When I (first) recorded them, I think I really did a pretty miserable job of it, "he says. "The originals are really rushed, and they have kind of fallen apart in different ways. So for me, it was sort of like the pieces grew up, and now they're 25 years old and on their own."

      Although the sound of the album is still Kottke's through and through, one has to wonder what the reaction has been from fans who like his solo acoustic concerts.

      "It's selling better," he says, "and getting more airplay than anything I've done in a long time. But my barometer is always how many (copies of the new album) I see at shows, when I'm signing stuff. And I'm seeing a lot of 'em. I have no problem signing a record I made 20 years ago. But you prefer that they're listening to what you're doing now."

      Kicking off with insistent percussion and a bevy of guitars, "World Turning" builds to an impassioned sitar solo. Kottke does a quiet, solo reading of "Corrina, Corrina," singing and playing in slightly hushed tones while adding a new verse, which he wrote.

      Other standout tracks include the happy "Twice," which features guest Chet Atkins' melodic lead guitar and a shuffling rhythm, and "Across the Street," a tragic solo guitar piece about a friend from the former Yugoslavia.

      Those who catch one of his San Francisco performances will find that he remains a guitarist who does a little singing, as opposed to a frustrated singer-songwriter. "My curiosity has always been with the guitar -- that's what got my attention in the beginning, and that's where I still am," he says.

Leo Kottke
with Peter Himmelmann
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell St., San Francisco
When: 8 pm Wednesday-Thursday
Tickets: $20
Call: (415) 885-0750, BASS
Also: 9:30 pm next Friday, the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz, $17.50, $16 advance;
(408) 423-1336

©1997 Reprinted with permission from The San Jose Mercury News Inc.

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