Leo Kottke – Mudlark (1971)

FrontCover1.jpgMudlark is American guitarist Leo Kottke’s fourth album, his first on a major label (Capitol) and his first to feature other musicians. It reached #168 on the Billboard Pop Albums charts.

Recording started in Los Angeles and later moved to Nashville. Four of the cuts were recorded in Wayne Moss’s garage studio in Nashville. The song “Room 8” is titled after a neighborhood cat named Room 8 who wandered into a classroom in 1952 at Elysian Heights Elementary School in Echo Park, California and lived at the school each winter, leaving in the summer. (by wikipedia)

Mudlark rates highly on many a Kottke fan’s favorite list. This was Kottke’s Capitol Records debut, and his solo instrumental sound is augmented with the addition of studio sidemen (bass, drums, piano). His playing is superb (no surprise there) and full of youthful vigor — a fusion of high-speed picking, brash slide work, funky folk, acoustic rock, and melodicism. Most importantly, Mudlark marked the debut of Kottke as a singer, an indication that Capitol was trying to shoehorn him into the singer/songwriter genre. Kottke himself has made disparaging remarks about his own vocals, but they add personality to his virtuosic guitar chops. His acoustic 12-string cover of “Eight Miles High” is particularly strong at showing off the vocal richness.

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On later albums, the vocals would become more mannered; here Kottke takes a more forward approach — belting out the melodies with gusto. Kottke’s sound was too raucous and unpredictable to guarantee commercial success on a major label. Stylistically, Kottke is all over the map (as usual), blending traditional folk, bluegrass, blues, singer/songwriter, and classical into his own brand of high-octane eclecticism. There’s no mistaking the Leo Kottke “sound,” but it’s hard to label it. Versatility is paramount, from the down-home high-speed picking of “Cripple Creek” to the steely bottleneck slide work on “June Bug” to the Baroque classicism of “Bourrée” by J.S. Bach, all of it wrapped by Kottke’s wry, surreal wit. A landmark early album, Mudlark increased Kottke’s visibility and helped establish his reputation as a homegrown American original. (by Jim Esch)

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Personnel:
Leo Kottke (guitar, bottleneck national steel guitar, vocals)
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Kenneth Buttrey (drums, percussion, cowbell on 01., 05., 10. + 14.)
Roy Estrad (bass on track 02.)
Kim “Juke Box Phantom” Fowley (vocals on 07.)
John Harris (piano on 01., 05. + 14.)
Jeffrey Kaplan (piano on 08. + 11.)
Paul “Fast Foot” Lagos (drums on 02., 03., 07. – 09. + 11.)
Wayne Moss (bass on 01., 05., 10. + 14.)
Pat Smit (bass on 11.)
Larry Taylor (bass on 03,, 07. + 09.)

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01. Cripple Creek (Traditional) 2.01
02. Eight Miles High (Clark/McGuinn/Crosby) 3.39
03. June Bug (Kottke) 2.17
04. The Ice Miner (Kottke) 2.03
05. Bumblebee (Kottke) 3.45
06. Stealing (Kottke) 1.42
07. Monkey Lust (Kottke/Fowley) 1.54
08. Poor Boy (White/Fahey) 2.10
09. Lullaby (Kottke) 3.24
10. Machine #2 (Kottke) 3.04
11. Hear The Wind Howl (Kottke) 3.04
12. Bourée (Bach) 1.28
13. Room 8 (Kottke) 3.00
14. Standing in My Shoes (Kottke/Bruce) 3.11

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Dixie Chicks – Wide Open Spaces (1998)

FrontCover1.jpgWide Open Spaces is the fourth studio album and the major label debut of American country music band, the Dixie Chicks. It was their first record with new lead vocalist Natalie Maines, and became their breakthrough commercial success. It received diamond status by the RIAA on February 20, 2003 in the United States, having shipped 14 million units worldwide, while spending more than six years in the Australian ARIA music charts Country Top 20.

At the 41st Grammy Awards, the album was awarded 2 Grammy Awards out of 3 nominations.[5] It was awarded Best Country Album (the first of what would be 4 trophies in this category: they would later win for Fly in 2000, Home in 2003, and Taking the Long Way in 2007) and for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal for the song “There’s Your Trouble”. This is an award the Chicks would win 5 times: in 2000 for “Ready to Run”, in 2003 for “Long Time Gone”, in 2005 for “Top of the World” and 2007 for “Not Ready to Make Nice”, a feat only matched by The Judds. In addition, the Chicks were nominated for Best New Artist in 1999.

“Once You’ve Loved Somebody” had previously been recorded by John & Audrey Wiggins on their 1996 album, The Dream. (by wikipedia)

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The Dixie Chicks spent the first half of the ’90s toiling away on the independent bluegrass circuit, releasing three albums on small labels, before sisters Martie Seidel and Emily Robison decided to revamp their sound in 1995, adding Natalie Maines as their lead singer and, in the process, moving the group away from bluegrass and toward a major label with Sony/Columbia’s revived Monument Records imprint. All of this seems like the blueprint for a big pop crossover move and, to be sure, their 1998 major-label debut Wide Open Spaces was a monumental success, selling over ten million copies and turning the group into superstars, but the remarkable thing about the album is that it’s most decidedly not a sell-out, or even a consciously country-pop record. To be sure, there are pop melodies here, but this isn’t a country-pop album in the vein of Shania Twain, a record that’s big on style and glitz, designed for a mass audience. Instead, Wide Open Spaces pulls from several different sources — the Chicks’ Americana roots, to be sure, but also bits of the alt country from kd lang and Lyle Lovett, ’70s soft rock (any album that features versions of songs by J.D. Souther and Bonnie Raitt surely fits this bill), even the female neo-folkies emerging on the adult alternative rock stations at the end of the decade.

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In other words, it hit a sweet spot, appealing to many different audiences because it was eclectic without being elitist but they also had a true star in Natalie Maines, whose powerful, bluesy voice gave these songs a compelling center. Maines was versatile, too, negotiating the twists and turns of these songs without a hitch, easily moving from the vulnerability of “You Were Mine” to the snarl of “Give It Up or Let Me Go.” The same goes for the Dixie Chicks and Wide Open Spaces as a whole: they are as convincing on the sprightly opener “I Can Love You Better” or the bright, optimistic title song as they are on the breezy “There’s Your Trouble” as they are on the honky tonk shuffle of “Tonight the Heartache’s on Me” and the rocking swagger of “Let ‘Er Rip.” It’s a remarkably wide range and it’s effortlessly eclectic, with the Dixie Chicks bringing it all together with their attitude and understated musicality — as debuts go (and this does count as a debut), they rarely get better than this. (by Stephen Thomas Erlewine)

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Personnel:
Emily Erwin (guitar, banjo, dobro, vocals)
Natalie Maines (vocals, banjo)
Martie Seidel (fiddle, mandolin, vocals)
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Mark Casstevens (guitar)
Bobby Charles, Jr. (bass)
Joe Chemay (bass)
Billy Crain (guitar)
Lloyd Maines (steel guitar)
George Marinelli (guitar)
Greg Morrow (drums)
Michael Rhodes (bass)
Tom Roady (percussion)
Matt Rollings (keyboards)
Billy Joe Walker, Jr. (guitar)
Paul Worley (guitar)
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Tommy Nash (guitar on 12.)
Tony Paoletta (steel guitar on 12.)

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Tracklist:
01. I Can Love You Better (Hayes/Kostas) 3.54
02. Wide Open Spaces (Gibson) 3.43
03. Loving Arms (Jans) 3.37
04. There’s Your Trouble (Selby/Sillers) 3.13
05. You Were Mine (Erwin/Seidel) 3.37
06. Never Say Die (Ducas/Foster) 3.57
07. Tonight The Heartache’s On Me (Francis/MacRae/Morrison) 3.26
08. Let ‘Er Rip (Crain/Ramos) 2.51
09. Once You’ve Loved Somebody (McHugh/Miller) 3.29
10. I’ll Take Care Of You (Souther) 3.40
11. Am I the Only One (Who’s Ever Felt This Way) (McKee) 3.25
12. Give It Up Or Let Me Go (Raitt) 4.56

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