Mike Gordon / Leo Kottke

Sixty Six Steps

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The second collaboration of Leo Kottke with ex-Phish bassist Mike Gordon finds the duo exploring breezy Caribbean sounds, with a few surprise covers. The musicians work wonderfully together, with Gordon's meaty yet malleable bass grounding and darting around Kottke's distinctive and agile fingerpicked lines. Percussion reinforces the island sound (the album was recorded at the famous Compass Point Studios in Nassau) and provides a terrific backbone for the album's tropical approach. Neither Gordon nor Kottke have great (or even good) voices -- the bassist's is particularly thin -- but they admirably dig into the songs, singing on about half of the tracks with a charming, easygoing quality that suits the material and shows they are enjoying this ride. "With a happy tune, anyone can become a singer" is a line from "Rings," an old Kottke gem revitalized here, and it fits the participants' scraggly style. Some tunes, such as Gordon's "Stolen Quiet," are so light and airy that they nearly float away. But they are saved by the stunning musicianship and often bizarre, stream-of-consciousness lyrics that veer between silly and thought-provoking. Hence, a few more instrumentals might be in order if there are future editions of this undeniably successful collaboration. Covers of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well" and -- more astonishingly -- Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" seem a bit out of place, but nonetheless provide the album with head-turning highlights. The latter works off a slinky, swampy, funk bass-driven groove that affords a terrific framework for both musicians' talents. Kottke goes solo on "From Spink to Correctionville" and reprises his own "Twice," a terrific tune that benefits from the Caribbean arrangement. Production from David Z., which keeps the spaces open, and nearly perfect percussion assistance from Neil Symonette are the less obvious pieces that combine to put this puzzle together so effectively.

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