I was just learning to walk in 1969, but they tell me that they were the best of times and the worst of times. Vietnam, moon landings, Hair
and free love, Watergate and Woodstock. Culture and counter-culture.
In all the hubbub, an almost unknown record label released an album of music like no other, from a guitarist that nobody had ever heard of.
The 24 year-old Leo Kottke's debut album 6- and 12- String Guitar
was both eye-catching and ear-catching. Its cover is stark black and white with a picture of an armadillo and an ant, and title graphics remeniscient of a LSD-warped Wild West.
This was, after-all, a counter-culture album, but in a more gentle and accessible style to the prevailing angry fashion. A rave review in Rolling Stone gave the album its first big break:
Kottke isn't a new addition to the Page-Beck school of grating, hypertensive guitarists, as if you were expecting that. He's an acoustic guitarist from Minneapolis whose music can invoke your most subliminal reflections or transmit you to the highest reaches of joy - Rolling Stone, 1970
Unlike a lot of things from the seventies, Kottke's music is still good listening, and the album continues to be his best-seller. Difficult to pigeonhole, it draws from folk, bluegrass, blues and even classical. In music stores, you may find it filed under Folk, Alternative, Ambient (Yuk!) or my least favourite, Progressive Folk. Leo Kottke really needs a category to himself.
6- and 12-String Guitar
is just Kottke playing his steel string Gibson, no other instruments and no vocals. It was recorded in a makeshift studio in a single session, and as Kottke says "I just sat down and played all the music I knew". With the exception of Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring
, all the music was written by Kottke himself.
The Armadillo Album
But what playing! This is virtuosity on par with Paganini and his violin, from the meditative Ojo
to the hair-raising Vaseline Machine Gun
. The fingerwork is intricate, whirlwinds of sound coming from the guitar, an infectious mix of energy and ideas.
And the Bach is the best version of Jesu
I know of for any solo instrument. I am amazed that a non-classical musician can capture the restraint and quiet mood of this well-known chorale.
Most of the time on Good-Music-Guide.com we have classical music, and (with the exception of Bach's Jesu
) this certainly ain't classical. So how do I convince the die-hard classical buff, who is looking at this week's selection with suspicion, to buy it?
Simply that good music comes in many flavours. A master of any trade is something to be appreciated, and Kottke is a master of his rather unique field. Expand your horizons, take a chance. Or as Sam I Am says in Dr Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham
Try it, try it! You may like it!
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6 and 12 String Guitar
- The Driving Of The Year Nail (1:54)
- The Last Of The Arkansas Greyhounds (3:14)
- Ojo (2:12)
- Crow River Waltz (3:17)
- The Sailor's Grave On The Prairie (2:30)
- Vaseline Machine Gun (3:08)
- Jack Fig (2:10)
- Watermelon (3:07)
- Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring - J.S.Bach (2:21)
- The Fisherman (2:29)
- The Tennessee Toad (2:37)
- Busted Bicycle (2:45)
- The Brain Of The Purple Mountain (2:07)
- Coolidge Rising (2:47)