Mudlark rates highly on many a Kottke fan's favorite list. This was Kottke's Capitol Records debut, and his solo instrumental sound is augmented with the addition of studio sidemen (bass, drums, piano). His playing is superb (no surprise there) and full of youthful vigor -- a fusion of high-speed picking, brash slide work, funky folk, acoustic rock, and melodicism. Most importantly, Mudlark marked the debut of Kottke as a singer, an indication that Capitol was trying to shoehorn him into the singer/songwriter genre. Kottke himself has made disparaging remarks about his own vocals, but they add personality to his virtuosic guitar chops. His acoustic 12-string cover of "Eight Miles High" is particularly strong at showing off the vocal richness. On later albums, the vocals would become more mannered; here Kottke takes a more forward approach -- belting out the melodies with gusto. Kottke's sound was too raucous and unpredictable to guarantee commercial success on a major label. Stylistically, Kottke is all over the map (as usual), blending traditional folk, bluegrass, blues, singer/songwriter, and classical into his own brand of high-octane eclecticism. There's no mistaking the Leo Kottke "sound," but it's hard to label it. Versatility is paramount, from the down-home high-speed picking of "Cripple Creek" to the steely bottleneck slide work on "June Bug" to the Baroque classicism of "Bourrée" by J.S. Bach, all of it wrapped by Kottke's wry, surreal wit. A landmark early album, Mudlark increased Kottke's visibility and helped establish his reputation as a homegrown American original.
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AllMusic Review by Jim Esch