Friday, 19 August 2016

"Greenhouse" by LEO KOTTKE (1990, 1997 and 2008 Beat Goes On CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...A Tiny Island Floating In The Sea..."

I always find it astonishing that Leo Kottke's fifth album "Greenhouse" from the spring of 1972 is not lauded from on high nor held in as much reverence as its predecessors by critics - because the ace guitarist dares to 'sing' on some tracks.

Frankly I find all-instrumental LPs hard work at the best of times - but with 1972's "Greenhouse" - the virtuoso picker waxes lyrical on four of the tunes while the other seven are 6 and 12-string acoustic instrumentals. And for my money I can't get enough of his deep toned voice. I've got the magical live album follow up "My Feet Are Smiling" from 1973 and "Mudlark" that preceded them in 1971 - but its the gorgeous studio set "Greenhouse" that I return to most - an 'overlooked album' masterpiece if ever there was one. 

OK - titles like "From The Cradle To The Grave" and "You Don't Have To Need Me" may not indicate a '...I'd like to buy the world a Coke and sing in perfect harmony...' cheery-man's persona - but there is undeniable beauty in these Kottke songs. And this is before we even get to how ridiculously good his fingerpicking is - his slide work up and down those acoustic necks that would make Bert Jansch and Jimmy Page nervous. Throw in the warmth of his melodies - even when he's doing someone else's song (his beautiful cover of Paul Siebel's "Louise") – the overall impact is one of 'musical peace' if that makes any sense. Here are the 'don't throw stones' details...

UK released October 1990 (reissued September 1997 and December 2008) - "Greenhouse" by LEO KOTTKE on Beat Goes On BGOCD 50 (Barcode 5017261200501) is a straightforward CD Remaster of the 11-track 1972 LP and plays out as follows (36:39 minutes)

1. Bean Time
2. Tiny Island
3. The Song Of The Swamp
4. In Christ There Is No East Or West
5. Last Steam Engine Train
6. From The Cradle To The Grave
7. Louise [Side 2]
8. The Spanish Entomologist
9. Owls
10. You Don't Have To Need Me
11. Lost John
Tracks 1 to 11 are his 5th studio album "Greenhouse" - released February 1972 in the USA on Capitol ST-11000 and delayed to March 1973 in the UK on Capitol E-ST 11000. Produced by DENNY BRUCE - the LP peaked at No. 127 on the US LP charts (didn't chart UK).

"Tiny Island", "Louise", "From The Cradle To The Grave" and "You Don't Have To Need Me" are the four vocal songs on the LP sung by Kottke - the other seven are instrumentals. "Louise" is a Paul Siebel cover, "In Christ There Is No East Or West" and "Last Steam Engine Train" are John Fahey covers and "Tiny Island" is by Al Gaylor. "From The Cradle To The Grave" has music by Kottke and lyrics by Ron Nagle - "Lost John" is a Traditional adapted from a version by Doc Watson - all others are Kottke originals. Leo plays all 6 and 12-string Acoustic guitars on every track except "Lost John" where he's joined by Steve Gammell on second guitar.

England's Beat Goes On Records have had a 'thing' for LEO KOTTKE from the beginning of their near 30-year reissue service (see list below). CD number 50 in their back catalogue first appeared in October 1990 - was reissued September 1997 with the 1990 CD inside even though it has a 1997 copyright date on the artwork (new JOHN TOBLER liner notes in 1997) - and remains reissued on their catalogue since December 2008 (with the 1990 CD inside). In short this CD transfer and remaster has been on their books 26 years - hell I've a son that's almost that old. But why fix what isn't broken. The audio on this CD transfer is gorgeous to my ears - beautifully crisp and clean. Sound engineer SHORTY MARTINSON who did the original Acoustic recordings at Sound Eighty Studios in Minneapolis caught his performances so sweetly. Except to say that BGO licensed this from 'EMI Records Ltd' at the time - it doesn't say who remastered this or where - but I'm not fussing because the Audio is wonderful.

The 8-page inlay with John Tobler liner notes give a potted history of his 20 or so albums to the late Nineties - his enigma even to his fans - his staggering playing skills – and despite the wildly un-commercial nature of his music – how he charted 9 albums in the USA over the years. But you do wish he'd have elaborated more on the actual "Greenhouse" album that gets a bunch of sentences that are over too soon.

Born in Athens, Georgia in September 1945 (REM's spiritual home) - Kottke once cheerfully describing his singing voice as "...geese farts on a muggy day..." I think he's playing down his talents way too much - a cross between the nasal whine of Michael Chapman but the warmth of say Don McLean - I find his rich deep voice incredibly welcoming. That's what makes "Greenhouse" such a great LP. It opens with "Bean Time" - written for his grandfather who got him his first job doing the dread 'bean picking' out in the hot fields - "Bean Time" is a typical speedy instrumental where he attacks those frets like a wasp homing in its prey. Portland's Al Gaylor wrote the lovely "Tiny Island" and is the first of four vocals on the album (lyrics from it title this review). It's just Kottke and Guitar - a simple song filled with deep longing for peace - and it fits in with that image of him on the back cover of the LP - his head just visible - bobbing - peeping up just above the foliage in the greenhouse.

We then get his staggering combination of melody and playing technique in "The Song Of The Swamp" - a slide acoustic instrumental that wows even now on several fronts (beautiful transfer on CD too) that he describes in his original LP liner notes as 'a slithery tune concerning the pitfalls of real estate'. Two John Fahey covers follow - the instrumental spiritual "In Christ There Is No East Or West" and the 'catch that mother' pace of "Last Steam Engine Train" where you can see that loco puffing down the line like a giddy child. "...Running for my life at every moment...never having time to catch my breath..." he sings on Ron Nagle's cheery life assessment "From The Cradle To The Grave".

He wowed the live audience with his playing on the "My Feet Are Smiling" album in 1973 - but of the two tracks he featured from "Greenhouse" (the other was the instrumental "Bean Time") - it was Paul Siebel's lament for "Louise" - a lady of the night who died in a hotel room - that moved the audience. And it's easy to hear why - the beauty of the song having been picked up since by Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt and Willy DeVille. "The Spanish Entomologist" is a combo of his favourite childhood melodies done on rapid slide (you'll hear 'Jambalaya' and 'Tumbling Tumbleweeds' in their amongst others). But that leads into my crave - the five minutes of "Owls" - a simply beautiful acoustic instrumental that speeds then slows then speeds again - his playing sublime - a sort of bluegrass ballad that oozes beauty - I love it to bits. "...I can't take all your love...while you take none of mine..." he pines on the downbeat "You Don't Have To Need Me" - but things cheer up on the unbelievable slide 12-string madness that is "Lost John". Apparently Kottke based his interpretation on Doc Watson's harmonica solo in his Country version of the Traditional.

Unique - majestical – at peace with itself. 

"Greenhouse" is the bomb and damn the torpedoes but keep on singing Leo...

Beat Goes On CD Remasters for LEO KOTTKE

1. Mudlark (1971) - Beat Goes On BGOCD 101
2. Greenhouse (1972) - Beat Goes On BGOCD 50
3. My Feet Are Smiling (Live, 1973) - Beat Goes On BGOCD 134
4. Ice Water (1974) - Beat Goes On BGOCD 146
5. Dreams And All That Stuff (1974) - Beat Goes On BGOCD 132
6. Chewing Pine (1975) - Beat Goes On BGOCD 148
7. Leo Kottke (1977) - Beat Goes On BGOCD 257
8. Burnt Lips (1978) - Beat Goes On BGOCD 259
9. Balance (1979) - Beat Goes On BGOCD 263
10. Live In Europe (1980) - Beat Goes On BGOCD 265
11. Guitar Music (1981) - Beat Goes On BGOCD 261
12. Time Step (1983) - Beat Goes On BGOCD 255
13. Leo Kottke 1971-1976 (1977 compilation) - Beat Goes On BGOCD 362

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