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LPs from the Attic: Leo Kottke — Ice Water

June 28, 2010

LPs from the Attic: Leo Kottke -- Ice Water

I heard your voice at midnight / By the river shore

Leo Kottke — Ice Water (Capitol, 1974)

Leo Kottke’s masterful guitar work is breathtaking upon discovery and gratifying upon repeated listening. His constant touring to packed crowds demonstrates this again and again. His skills as a storyteller, his wit, his pacing, and his depth of repertoire bolster his live, solo appearances greatly, making for a rich, satisfyingly well-rounded experience. His lightning-fast picking and constant chord changes mesmerize; he’s a walking encyclopedia of blues, country, and folk styles and a damned funny guy.

I was an instant follower after being caught completely off-guard by effortlessly virtuosic (and appealingly–fittingly–presumptuous) bow-shot 6- and 12-String Guitar (1969). That first, all-instrumental debut album and his current tendency towards solo, acoustic, instrumental playing threatens to obscure his more vocal- and band-oriented output, much of which is every bit as compelling and rewarding as his unadorned, acoustic flights. I suppose it doesn’t help that Kottke himself seems to prefer not to sing, deeming his voice akin to “geese farts.” Ample recorded evidence does not bear this out.

1972’s Greenhouse, with its four non-instrumentals, and ’74’s Ice Water show Kottke in fine fettle, whether accompanying himself or with a full band backing him. Turns out, he’s a fantastic ensemble player, too. Even with his lower-register baritone and somewhat limited range, he’s a capable singer. Hardly a florid gas-bag, he brings real earthiness and feeling to his vocal tracks, often reminding me of a more restrained Fred Neil. Although occasionally a bit silly or sentimental, his lyrics have a genuine, lived-in quality.

Ice Water’s countrified, progressive folk may not be the best place to start for the novitiate. But, its handful of instrumentals represents his trademark, flashy-instrumental side well, and, contrary to Mr. Kottke’s opinion, his vocals add narrative and nuance to the experience rather than detract.

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