Sep 112015

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!


Ever since September 11 joined November 22 and December 7 as being among the darkest dates in American history, it’s been difficult to associate anything celebratory with it. But if we can’t find it in ourselves to wish acoustic virtuoso Leo Kottke a happy 70th birthday, then the terrorists win.

Normally, we celebrate an artist’s birthday by featuring five covers of their songs. In Kottke’s case, however, covers of his originals tend to sound like people aiming to sound like Leo Kottke. On the other hand, when Kottke covers a song, he never sets out to replicate the original artist, and as a result, his covers all bear the Kottke sound – and, doubtless, the original artists’ stamp of approval. In this case, it seems a better birthday present to showcase what he can do.

Leo Kottke – Eight Miles High (The Byrds cover)

Kottke is famous for comparing his voice to the flatulence of waterfowl, but of course his voice is rarely if ever the point of his songs. Witness “Eight Miles High,” where we’re all familiar with the words, but we’ve never heard someone’s playing take those words to these heights before.

Leo Kottke – Girl of the North Country (Bob Dylan cover)

Kottke keeps quite close to Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’ arrangement of “Girl from the North Country,” making it a little faster and perhaps a little more intricate (not to mention changing from to of). It also give Kottke the chance to sing in his upper register, making it one of his more expressive vocal performances.

Leo Kottke – World Turning (Fleetwood Mac cover)

1997’s Standing in My Shoes saw Kottke standing in the shoes of Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac, covering their “World Turning.” Unusually for Kottke, he’s got a full backup band behind him, but they don’t obscure his musicianship here, but amplify it. And yes, that’s him on sitar as well.

Leo Kottke – Cool Water (Sons of the Pioneers cover)

Bob Dolan of the Sons of the Pioneers wrote “Cool Water” eleven years before Leo Kottke was born. By the time Kottke recorded it, on 1978’s Burnt Lips, it had long established itself as one of the greatest C&W songs ever written. Kottke’s playing captures the aridity and the longing in the song better than his singing does.

Leo Kottke – All I Have To Do Is Dream (The Everly Brothers cover)

The Everly Brothers made a classic out of “All I Have To Do Is Dream” with the close harmonies of their vocals; Kottke makes a classic out of it by slowing it down, shortening it, and removing his vocals altogether. And the playing – well, as the Everlys sing (and Kottke doesn’t), gee whiz.

Check out some more of Leo Kottke’s work on Amazon.

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