The “Listen Again” series was popular enough that your favorite record reviewer has decided to follow the lead of some TV execs and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums BUT the platters we’ll peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. This time we look a Leo Kottke’s My Feet Are Smiling.
But first, for those not up on their music history, Kottke is an acoustic guitarist and singer born in 1945 in the state of Georgia. He is perhaps most famous for his fingerpicking style and his polyphonic, syncopated melodies. He is admired by people who face physical adversities because he himself has overcome adversities such as partial loss of hearing and right hand tendon damage.
The music for the 13-track My Feet Are Smiling platter was recorded in December of 1972. He performed solo singing and playing his 6 and 12-string guitars. This would be his sixth album and the second to be recorded live.
Specifically, this material was recorded in 1972 at two different live gigs on December 19th and 20th at Minneapolis, Minnesota’s Tyrone Guthrie Theatre. Most of the folk music on this work was taken from the night of the 20th. The album’s opener is the first of many Kottke compositions titled “Hear the Wind Howl”.
The second selection is “Busted Bicycle”. This is a fan favorite and Kottke would go on to record different versions of this tune. It’s followed by the seasonal song “Easter” and an interesting cover of a Paul Siebel piece titled “Louise”.
Side one also includes “Blue Dot”. This one was actually written a mere three days before the concert from which it was recorded. The first side closes on “Stealing” which further demonstrates Kottke’s capabilities.
The flip side opens on “Living in the Country”. Here Kottke covers American folk singer Pete Seeger’s brief song and makes it his own. It is followed by another Kottke original frantic two-minute tune titled “June Bug”.
Kottke next makes a statement with “Standing in My Shoes”. This is a collaborative cut composed with his producer Denny Bruce. A pair of his original works follows here titled “The Fisherman” and “Bean Time”.
“Eggtooth” is another example of what Kottke can do when writing with other artists. This one was co-written with Michael “Bluer Than Blue” Johnson. The album’s end-note is a final medley. With a running time of over 7 minutes “Medley: Crow River Waltz, /Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring/Jack Fig” allows Kottke to stretch a bit (even quite competently covering classical Bach).
Released by Capitol in March 1973, the nearly 44 minute-long record climbed to number 108 on the Billboard Pop Albums charts. Critics noted Kottke’s prodigious technique, his unconventional vocals and his sense of humor here. The live LP was praised as having documented some of the best playing of his career to date. In fact, it would be re-issued on CD in 1994 by BGO and once again in 1996 by One Way Records.
In truth, while Kottke is often compared to John Fahey, in truth he is more like the late country blues artist Sam McGee. Unlike Fahey, Kottke is pretty much a staunch traditionalist. Much like McGee, Kottke seems committed to such simple virtues as melody, harmony and the straight talk found in folk, country and blues songs. Furthermore, his uninhibited vocals and his ability to inject his live solo gigs with funny, oft’times odd monologues makes Leo Kottke’s My Feet Are Smiling/Cap. ST-11164 one of his best albums ever.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.