Mike Gordon & Leo Kottke - Sixty Six Steps CD

Since its release, a lot has been made of the tropical breezes blowing through Sixty Six Steps, the second collaboration between guitar guru Leo Kottke and enigmatic ex-Phish bassist Mike Gordon, but the duo’s ability to inject their own eccentricities into one of the most bastardized musical traditions on Earth is even more impressive. While a distinctly Caribbean pulse beats throughout much of the album, there is much more to this than a few grains of sand on a beach in the Bahamas.
Many of the album's calypso rhythms can be traced back over the Atlantic. Gordon's own "Over the Dam" dances beyond blue beaches to the grasslands and jungles of West Africa, as percussionist Neil Symonette plays to the beat of a village full of shuffling bare feet, and Pete Seeger's "Living in the Country" opens with a savannah full of blossoming guitar as Gordon plays hopscotch with the melody, dancing light-footed between the lines.

But Gordon and Kottke don't just plant themselves on exotic shores; they bring it back home. Instead of fulfilling his escapist wishes off "The Grid," Gordon finds himself right in the middle of it with only a reggae spirit to comfort his post-modern blues. Kottke's old-time intro on "Cherry Country" walks backwards onto the beach just before shuffling into the concrete jungles of the New World, and Gordon adds a Jamaican bounce to the strange goodbye of "The Stolen Quiet."

Ultimately, Sixty-Six Steps straddles the ocean between American and foreign shores. The distinctively American sounds of the Delta blues and New Orleans funk welcome a calypso bounce on "Oh Well" and "Can't Hang," while Gordon's childhood fascination with Caribbean stylings gets its full due on Kottke's non-sensical "Balloon" and Gordon's second shot at the Mustangs' "Ya Mar," complete with an a propos call to "play it Leo!"

The funky, acoustic syncopation of Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" plays the perfect American counterpart to the melodic ocean breezes of "Invisible," just as Kottke and Gordon have found in each other a complimentary and kindred quirkiness. Whether the music itself is Caribbean or American, Sixty Six Steps shuffles and grooves with a peaceful calm that only comes when salty air replaces car exhaust and one's toes are finally buried in the sand.

- by Brian Gearing