Playlist

Puff Daddy, Leo Kottke, Prince, Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines

Finger-style guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke has been combining uncanny heart and behemoth chops for over three decades, mesmerizing legions of faithful fans with his unique brand of self-effacing humor and humble genius. The Georgia-born artist started out playing trombone and violin and is today responsible for a staggering body of six- and twelve-string guitar work. Excluding soundtracks, singles and live and compilation recordings, Kottke has twenty albums in the vault. That's over 265 catalogued songs alone, folks. And he's still churning 'em out like sweet dairy butter.

"Tunes have a life of their own," Kottke offers via the Internet. He's an intrepid hermit with a curious Web site -- you guessed it: www.leokottke.com. "They change. Every once in a while, I'll discover much later what a tune was all about, and then I re-record it."

Partly sentimental, this new collection features predominantly new material. Notable reinterpretations of older pieces include "Three/Quarter North" and "From Little Treasure," both film scores from 1985's Little Treasure (featuring Burt Lancaster in one of his last roles). And at nearly ten full minutes, "Bigger Situation" (transmogrified from an earlier Rickie Lee Jones-produced piece titled "Big Situation") marks what is perhaps Kottke's longest recording to date. The rhythmic "Snorkel" (written in Sydney while his hotel room was flooding) and "Peckerwood" (a brief ode to white trash) burst with the ol' pro's customary colorful exuberance. His ability to project two or three voices coherently -- simultaneously -- astounds, and the beautiful, liquid fat-note music has an enormous sound, as robust and insistent as ever. Purely instrumental, consistently engaging, these delightful tracks confirm what longstanding Leoheads have known for ages: that One Guitar is always enough. -- John La Briola Garth Brooks

Chris Gaines: Greatest Hits

(Capitol)

Sometimes you've just got to step back and ask, "What the hell?"

Nope, this isn't supposed to be a Garth Brooks album. Instead, ol' Garth, a man with one of the healthiest self-images in popular music, is an "actor" portraying Chris Gaines, a fictional performer whose albums, according to the bizarre liner notes, "defined our times over the last decade." (The project supposedly has something to do with a movie that Brooks, a man once described as looking like "a penis with a hat," wants to make.) The faux bio included with Greatest Hits, produced by good soldier Don Was, goes on to point out that Gaines's solo debut, 1989's Straight Jacket, spent 224 weeks on the Billboard sales charts and won a Grammy as album of the year; that successors such as Fornucopia and Apostle did almost as well; and that Triangle caused critics to call Gaines "The New Prince" because of the R&B influences that were cropping up in his music. But listening to the three alleged Triangle tracks -- " That's the Way I Remember It [245K aiff]," "Driftin' Away" and "Snow in July" -- doesn't exactly support this fantasy. The first tune is a generic acoustic shuffle, the second is a ballad that might appeal to, say, Garth Brooks, and the third is the sort of anglo-funk that looks mighty pale in comparison with the real thing. "The New Edwin McCain" is more like it.

More chuckles follow. " My Love Tells Me So [276K aiff]," supposedly a hit for Gaines's first band, Crush, is a moderately effective bit of power pop, but the trio of mock selections from Straight Jacket would never have been late-Eighties smashes: "Maybe" is a Beatles knockoff; "Digging for Gold" actually digs Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac; and "White Flag" suggests an emasculated Bon Jovi (there's a terrifying image). Elsewhere, "Main Street" -- an "instant classic," according to the CD jacket -- emerges as a blatant ripoff of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door," " Unsigned Letter [250K aiff]" boldly steals from U2's "With or Without You," and "Right Now" (a "new" track) interpolates Cheryl Wheeler's gun- control anthem, "If It Were Up to Me," and the Youngblood's hippie anthem "Get Together." And while it's kinda funny to hear Brooks imitate Foreigner on "Way of the Girl," it's not nearly as amusing as Foreigner all by itself. "Hot Blooded" cracks me up every time.

By the way, Greatest Hits is intended as a precursor to The Lamb, Gaines's upcoming solo album, "which the critics are already predicting will be the 'definitive album of the new millennium,'" according to the disc's anonymous scribe. Guess that means the rest of you musicians can take the next 1,000 years off. -- Roberts

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