Leo Kottke Mudlark LP (Capitol, 1971)
Leo Kottke is one of the Great American Guitarists. His 1969 record on John Fahey's Takoma label is legendary, some of the best acoustic guitar work this side of the great Fahey himself. Like Fahey, Kottke developed an idiosyncratic playing style that draws from bluegrass, blues, folk, and jazz. One thing that makes Kottke's playing even more amazing is that he is partially deaf. When he was a youngster he had an unwelcome encounter with a firecracker, damaging his hearing in one ear. The injury was later furthered by sessions at the gun range during his duty in the US Navy Reserves.
Mudlark is not a record most Kottke fans would lay on you if they were told to pick one (that would probably be his Takoma album). In fact, I wouldn't have bothered with it if Tim Matranga hadn't handed one to me at a record sale with the words, "Kim Fowley" and "You have to hear this." What Tim was referring to is the cut Monkey Lust, a song to which the vocals are credited "Juke Box Phantom" and the writing credit shared between Kottke and Fowley. How Fowley wound up on a Kottke record is probably as absurd a question as "How has Kim Fowley wound up on any record?" Let us agree that the man is a legend - in his mind and others - and capable of appearing anywhere. On Monkey Lust, Fowley rambles while Kottke rips up the fret board. The monologue is as whacked as the guitar playing is amazing.
Not one to let a record settle with one track, I listened to the whole set and picked a couple more songs for you. Like Monkey Lust, Standing in My Shoes and Bumblebee feature vocals, but this time it is Kottke singing. While it is obvious that vocals are not his forte, his style has enough of an everyman aspect to it and the music behind the vox is great. Standing in My Shoes has such lightning quick guitar work that it comes off as quasi-psychedelic. When I heard Bumblebee I was immediately drawn to it, but I didn't know why. I racked my brain and something clicked: While the voice is different, the song, the phrasing, the music reminds me of early Lou Reed.
Once again, I want to stress that Mudlark is not a typical Kottke album, at least not one that he would want to be remembered for. It came at a time when his record label was trying to mold him into a major folk act, saddling him with a band and slick production. A more representative listen can be had with the early records on Oblivion, Symposium, and Takoma or his later stuff on Private Music (though I would go with the early work if I was you).