|Stereo Review, April 1974|
Recordings of Special Merit: Ice Water
It is not possible for me to be rational about Leo Kottke. Imagine a guitarist uniting the power of Leadbelly, the agility of Lonnie Johnson, the dignity of Laurindo Almeida, the loose expertise of Ry Cooder, and the poetry of Django Reinhardt. That is a rough idea of what Kottke does. And besides that, he's gotten more confident as a singer and is beginning to write good songs. Not yet thirty, he is still developing, so there is always the sense of high adventure upon hearing him -- where will he take me next?
"Morning Is the Long Way Home" opens his new album and, in total, is the best single performance in it. His voice, delivery, guitar, lyrics and careening melody line produce an alternating tension and relaxation that is irresistible. "Pamela Brown" is a Tom T. Hall tune, done in a straight-ahead cosmopolitan country way. Kottke's solo is more than fine country picking, but he keeps within country limits; he doesn't need or want to bludgeon or compromise other styles to suit his own. "Born to Be with You," written by one Don Robertson, is a reworking of the old folk melody "Banks of the Ohio," done at breakneck country speed. Here again Kottke applies his ideas of tension and relaxation, overdubbing a six-string solo on a "Spanish" classical gut-string model. He takes his sweet time about picking the notes, slowly developing the solo while the band blazes on. The effect is terrific.
Of the glorious instrumentals, "A Good Egg," doe entirely solo, opens with a soft statement like spoken words that suddenly trigger an explosive chain of memories thoughts, emotions, and ideas. The solo leaps into a series of stylistic burst, both jump and smooth, and returns to the opening phrase to end the piece. Corny as it sounds, Leo Kottke does make the guitar talk. A superior musician makes his instrument a vehicle for language, the artist's dialect; with it he says what he cannot or would not put into words. Yet, at the same time, in the midst of his brilliant playing, Kottke seems to be saying, "My God, just listen to what this instrument can do!" He is fascinated by the guitar, not by himself. This kind of modesty and wonder is one of the things that identifies a superior musician.
Added to all this is the work of the sidement, who are simply perfect. They follow Kottke's zooms, swoops, and swerves, contributing something of their own but never getting in his way. Please do stop everything else right now and run get this album. -- Joel Vance
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