Picks and Pans Review: My Father's Face

updated 09/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/25/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Leo Kottke

Kottke, long known for his masterful, minimally accompanied acoustic guitar stylings, enriches his sound considerably on My Father's Face. The change is evident from the opening instrumental, "Times Twelve," on which Kottke's rich strum-and-pick technique is subtly accented by the glockenspiel, timpani and sleigh bells of Michael Blair.

With very few exceptions, Kottke in his recording career has usually run a one-man show, so the making of this album must have seemed like a Cecil B. De Mille epic. Leo is joined by a raft of musicians, including David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Dobroist Jerry Douglas, drummer Jim Keltner, bass player Edgar Meyer and, on organ, T. Bone Burnett, who also produces. To Burnett's credit, he hasn't let Kottke's stately, mournful folk style get lost in the shuffle. But you'd think with all that help wandering around the studio, Kottke might have drafted someone to sing for him. Unfortunately, he insists on mauling the music himself. You can hear his dour, deflated voice lowing on songs like "Back in Buffalo" and "Why Can't You Fix My Car." He does sound good as he gruffly talks his way through "Jack Gets Up," an intriguing, surreal nursery rhyme for adults. "My Aunt Francis" and "B.J." are more in line with his past work-spare but expressive folk with a little classical formalism thrown in for good measure. His finger-picking artistry is most impressive on "William Powell," a dizzying display of dexterity (which has nothing to do with the '30s-'40s actor).

There's probably nothing we could say about Kottke at this point, 20 years into his recording career, that would alter your opinion of him. He's the beets of folk guitar music: Either you like him or you don't. Even though he's branching out slightly on this offering, Kottke has neither compromised nor strayed very far from his thoughtful and distinctive roots. (Private Music)

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