Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon: Sixty Six Steps

As a child, Mike Gordon and his family took a trip to the Bahamas. It was there, sitting by the pool, that he first heard the smooth, calypso rhythms of the Mustangs. Years later he would bring “Ya Mar” to the Phish table, but those island sounds would stay with him for much longer. So now that his plate is relatively clean, what better time to experiment with the album that never was, and do it with Leo Kottke, the only finger-picking genius that could pull it off in that Gordon-esque style. And if they were going to really do it right, why not rehearse in Costa Rica and record it right back there in the Bahamas. So yes, this is a calypso, island vibe record, but not in that Club Med, cheeseburger in paradise sort of way. It’s more like a mile down the beach, 3am, the cabana bonfire is just a small glow in the distance and your head is full of Red Stripe.

The mix of Gordon/Kottke originals with eclectic, unassuming covers makes Sixty Six Steps a nice blend of rhythms with just enough familiarity to give it that laid back sensibility. Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” is sedated with a Turkish baglama (banjo/mandolin-type instrument), Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” has a misty air to it, and Pete Seeger’s “Living In The Country” rolls and crashes like the aqua blue ocean, strengthened by the percussive fills of Neil Symonette – Nassau’s renowned dummer.

Of course “Ya Mar” is in there as well, but things really churn when Gordon and Kottke bring their own unique personalities and distinct works to light. Gordon’s “The Grid” is quintessential Gordo. Set to island time, its ironic monotone and slanted look at reality could only make sense coming from his world. Equally could be said for the most classic “screw you” ode to a roommate that leaves abruptly in “Stolen Quiet,” and the passivity of the album’s closer, “Invisible.” For a songwriter that consistently hovers on quirky and abstract, these are some of the most well written songs he’s recorded.

Things are just as impressive and as oddly melded in Kottke’s corner. His deep, straight-forward voice rolling over island-tinged guitar sounds like Johnny Cash singing “Redemption Song,” but somehow it fits perfectly. “Balloon” is a bouncy rhythm under unwavering lyrics, the acoustics in the instrumental track, “From Spink to Correctionville” are impeccably clean, and the trio coming together for “Twice” easily makes that song the standout track among many.

You can bet a sand dollar this ends up on quite a few “Best of ’05” lists.

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