Leo Kottke

Lest ye, the hippie-come-lately, forget: Guitars begin their lives as plants. Ancient, wise, and mystical plants. Living, breathing, and towering plants. Then chop, cut, plane, sand, form, set, shellac. Add simple strings and ... voilˆ! Place one in the proper hands and the tunes write themselves. Some players can even tap into that good, primordial sap with enough warmth and feeling to make the ghost of Sitting Bull smile.

Finger-style guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke has been combining uncanny heart and behemoth chops for more than three decades, mesmerizing legions of faithful fans with his unique brand of self-effacing humor and humble genius. The Georgia-born artist started out playing trombone and violin and is today responsible for a staggering body of six- and twelve-string guitar work. Excluding soundtracks, singles, live albums, and compilation recordings, Kottke has twenty albums in the vault. That's more than 265 catalogued songs alone, folks. And he's still churning 'em out like sweet dairy butter.

"Tunes have a life of their own," Kottke offers via the Internet. He's an intrepid hermit with a curious Website: You guessed it -- "They change. Every once in a while, I'll discover much later what a tune was all about, and then I re-record it."

Partly sentimental, One Guitar, No Vocals features predominantly new material. Notable reinterpretations of older pieces include "Three/Quarter North" and "From Little Treasure," both film scores from 1985's Little Treasure (featuring Burt Lancaster in one of his last roles). And at nearly ten full minutes, "Bigger Situation" (transmogrified from an earlier Rickie Lee Jones-produced piece titled "Big Situation") marks what is perhaps Kottke's longest recording to date. The rhythmic "Snorkel" (written in Sydney, Australia, while his hotel room was flooding) and "Peckerwood" (a brief ode to white trash) burst with the ol' pro's customary colorful exuberance. His ability to project two or three voices coherently and simultaneously astounds, and the beautiful, liquid fat-note music has an enormous sound, as robust and insistent as ever. Purely instrumental, consistently engaging, these delightful tracks confirm what Leoheads have known for ages: that one guitar is always enough.

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John La Briola