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CD Review: Leo Kottke & Mike Gordon — Sixty-Six Steps

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Sixty-Six Steps reunites guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke and Phish bassist Mike Gordon after their initial critically acclaimed collaboration on the 2002 release Clone. They are joined by drummer Neil Symonette on 14 tracks that demonstrate just how much exceptional music three talented musicians can produce.

These songs are a combination of instrumentals and vocals that have as their common element a subtle calypso rhythm that was enhanced, no doubt, by the Bahamian location of the studio in which the recording was made. This Caribbean flavor only begins to characterize the music, however, which features both the old and the new.

In the former category is a treatment of the familiar Kottke song “Rings” that benefits significantly from this fresh interpretation. The pairing of inspired instrumental work with absolutely deadpan vocals on their cover of Arrowsmith’s “Sweet Emotion” is impossible to adequately describe. Original’s on the CD include Gordon’s “Stolen Quiet” and Kottke’s “Balloon.” Both feature lyrics so quirky that the listener might well find himself wondering if he heard correctly.

Vocal duties are shared by Kottke and Gordon. As enjoyable as they are, they take second place to instrumental work on this recording. That is to be expected on a Leo Kottke CD. His work here on 6-string and 12-string guitar, including one number effectively using the slide, attests to the reason for his long career as a performer. This is not a solo work, however, and Gordon and Symonette both add distinctive elements to these tracks. The restraint and clarity on the part of all three contributors is noteworthy, particularly considering how much sound they are capable of producing. There is an easy, relaxed style to the playing that gives one the distinct impression that they were having a lot of fun making the music.

The rock, jazz, blues, folk and classical influences that find their way into Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon’s music make it a challenge to identify a genre into which to classify Sixty-Six Steps. A new category might be in order, one in which there is always room for new recordings – Music That Will Make You Smile.

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