Leo Kottke – Greenhouse (1971)

LPFrontCover1Greenhouse is American guitarist Leo Kottke’s fifth album, his second on the Capitol label, released in 1972. It was recorded in three days. From the liner notes: “In the sense that my guitars were once plants, this record’s a greenhouse. There are seven instrumentals and four vocals.” It reached No. 127 on the Billboard 200 chart. (ny wikipedia)

A somewhat less ambitious record than Mudlark, from a recording standpoint, Greenhouse is a true solo record that offers several surprises. Over a third of it is made up of vocal numbers, including two that are absolutely superb. “Tiny Island” may be the best track here, a song by Al Gaylor, inspired by the death of Jimi Hendrix, that offer one of Kottke’s best vocal performances of his whole career. Also worth the price of a ticket are a pair of John Fahey-related tunes (“In Christ There Is No East or West,” “Last Steam Engine Train”) that he puts his own unique spin on, with the latter a true dazzler as an acoustic piece; “From the Cradle to the Grave,” a strangely compelling song in which Kottke’s singing is the backup to his guitar, which has center stage even when he’s singing; and the slow, lyrical bluesy “Louise,” another vocal performance where Kottke excels as a singer; the playful, delightful “The Spanish Entomogolgist,” a medley of children’s songs that includes quotations from “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Jambalaya”; and the gorgeous bluegrass guitar workout on “Owls.” Some of the mastering isn’t quite as clean here as it is on other titles in Kottke’s catalog, but otherwise this is an acceptable reissue of an album that is, perhaps, under appreciated because of its relatively high concentration of vocal numbers by the guitarist. Not all of those come off as well as the two best, but none are complete failures, and his guitar playing even on the weakest of them, “You Don’t Have To Need Me,” is interesting enough to carry the piece. (by Bruce Eder)

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This is my favorite Leo Kottke album–and I own all of them. Why this gets the nod over 6- and 12-String Guitar (which is spectacular!) is that Greenhouse also features Kottke’s warm baritone vocals on four of the album’s eleven tracks.
To listen to Kottke’s vocal choices, you’d think this man is the gloomiest guy on the planet. “Louise” is about the death of a prostitute. Even the song titles (“From the Cradle to the Grave” and “You Don’t Need Me”) ooze pessimism. But these are lovely songs and you need to pick up one of Kottke’s several live albums to discover what a wonderful sense of humor he displays in his between-songs storytelling.
And the seven instrumentals are simply amazing! the album kicks off with “Bean Time” and Kottke’s fingers fly across the fretboard. “The Song of the Swamp” features Kottke’s impeccable slide work. Kottke pays homage to John Fahey on his cover of “In Christ There Is No East or West” and “Last Steam Engine Train.” Kottke says in the liner notes that “‘The Spanish Entomologist’ is a medley made up of a children’s song (‘Playmate’) and my two favorite songs when I was a kid (‘Jambalaya’ and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds’).” Like the rest of the album, it is a joy to listen to. If you don’t already own any Leo Kottke, this is the place to start. ESSENTIAL (by Steve Vrana)

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Personnel:
Leo Kottke (guitar, vocals)
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Steve Gammell (guitar on 11.)

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Tracklist:
01. Bean Time (Kottke) 2:32
02. Tiny Island Al Gaylor 3:46
03. The Song Of The Swamp (Kottke) 3:00
04. In Christ There Is No East Or West (Fahey) 2:12
05. Last Steam Engine Train (Fahey/McGee) 3:00
06. From The Cradle To The Grave (Kottke/Nagle)
07. Louise (Siebel) 4:02
08. The Spanish Entomologist (Traditional) 2:24
09. Owls (Kottke) 5:00
10. You Don’t Have to Need Me (Kottke) 4:37
11. Lost John (Traditional) 2.20

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I wish I had a tiny island floating in the sea
Palm trees don’t get in the way, it’s a tropical ease
And everywhere that I keep my silence, no sound returns to me
Just endless waves at the end of our days, the sighing of the seas

But yesterday’s gone, I don’t know where I come from, hmmm
Wonder where I’m going

The very last time that you saw me off I thought that it was understood
That I’d be gone for a very long time, I might be gone for good
And all that time, all the time, I thought you would never fall
It did not dawn across my mind the time that you lost it all

But yesterday’s gone, I don’t know where I come from, hmmm
Don’t know where I’m going

Sometime’s I feel like a tiny island floating in the sea
Palm trees don’t get in the way, it’s a tropical ease
And everywhere that I keep my silence, no sound returns to me
Just endless waves at the end of our days, the sighing of the seas

But yesterday’s gone, I don’t know where I come from, hmmm
Wonder where I’m going