Boston Phoenix (September 26 - October 3, 1996)

Danny Gatton, Leo Kottke, and Blastula: Real Roots

by Ted Drozdowski

      Our culture's at a point where the description American roots guitar music can apply to so much, from the blazing neo-rockabilly of the late Danny Gatton to the blues-inspired acoustic picking of Leo Kottke to the industrial modernist roar & drone of John Myers's all-guitar quartet Blastula.  It's all traditional -- just coming out of different traditions.

      With Gatton and Kottke, the ties to the past are obvious [...snipped...] Kottke's latest release is a reissue of his 1969 debut recording for guitarist John Fahey's Takoma label, 6- and 12-String Guitar.  It is what it claims to be: 14 solo performances on six- and 12-string acoustic guitars, exploring the most prominent aspects of the American steel-string guitar tradition -- blues and English folk-derived country music.  For those bored with Kottke's more recent mellow recordings -- which seem to explore simple melodies for the sake of pandering to new-age-softened baby-boomers -- this is a reminder of that right-hand picking technique, with its droning low-string anchor and a high end nearly baroque in exquisite detail, that marked his craftsmanship as special.  Even in Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" there's a hint of Doc Watson's hill-country twang.  Between Watson and Bukka White, Kottke's influences are covered, and here he repeatedly mixes their precise vocabulary with a speed and flair for rolling melody.  (Kottke, by the way, will play a concert at Harvard's Paine Hall on October 19.)

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