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At age 75, Minnesota guitar hero Leo Kottke releases a new album with Phish bassist

By Jon Bream, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Entertainment News

"We just enjoy each other's company and creativity," said Gordon, who has done two duo tours with Kottke. "We have a really special rapport."

They are opposites, though. "Leo is relentlessly reclusive," said the bassist, 20 years his junior. "I always like to be around people. At Phish shows, I'd take a golf cart out and meet the fans."

They're opposites when it comes to concertizing, too. Kottke has performed thousands of gigs solo. Gordon has played nearly 2,000 gigs in one band or another.

"We are both outside of our comfort zones when we're playing together," Gordon pointed out. Yet, they relish the risk-taking and the collaboration.

For "Noon," Gordon wrote three songs, and Kottke penned six tunes (including "From the Cradle to the Grave," which he first recorded in 1972). And they cover the Byrds' "Eight Miles High" (Kottke was never happy with the version he released in 1971) and Prince's "Alphabet St." (Gordon always loved the groove, though they give it a Grateful Dead-like treatment).

One of the highlights of the album is Kottke's "Noon to Noon," with its melancholy, poetic shades of Leonard Cohen. It's about watching a terminally ill person live out their life.

 

"That song was a surprise to me. I wondered where it came from. It's sort of a samba or mambo by way of Hennepin Avenue," said Kottke. "The lyric turns out to have been a recapitulation of someone I knew who is no longer here. I was never going to write about it because it was too close. This thing had 40 or 50 years before it came out in the lyric."

Remote appearances

Since the album was released digitally in August (the CD and vinyl versions are available Friday), Kottke and Gordon have done a few remote virtual performances to promote "Noon" — CBS' "A Late Show With Stephen Colbert," NPR's "Tiny Desk Concerts" and a program at the Grammy Museum — even though they were in their own respective hometowns.

"I hadn't heard the word 'publicist' in — how long? — 30 years," Kottke pointed out, with a mix of surprise and irony. "It's been great. It's kind of exciting."

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