Stress can be a difficult thing to cope with. Between work, family, money, and hobbies, life can be so painfully hectic that you wish for a different routine. Fortunately enough for the human mind, music has always been a scapegoat from the pressure of every day life and its responsibilities. Even more in depth into the subject, there are certain genres of music that were created especially for relaxation. Bands like the psychedelic/funk jam-band Phish, keep their music spacey and freewheeling, making for a warm, feel-good listen. Mike Gordon, Phish’s bassist- who doubles on banjo- had always had a keen Jones for folk and bluegrass music. And so he met up with Leo Kottke- a folksy Georgian acoustic guitar virtuoso/ songwriter. In 2002, the duo released Clone, a breezy, tropical folk album with deep, slithering basslines and minimalist guitar chord strumming behind obscurely told stories with laid back vocal harmonies. The record became somewhat of an underground success, with numbers like the title track, which ambiguously tells the tale of an imposter, but with a little redneck spice of the deep south. Clone already brought an extensive fan base- both Phish and Kottke fans were interested in the material- thus becoming relatively popular among the pair’s previous work’s enthusiasts. Because of the relative hit the two achieved with Clone, in 2005 they teamed up again to write and produce the album Sixty Six Steps, an album not dissimilar to Clone. The results were in vain of the record’s predecessor.
From the first three notes that are hit on Sixty Six Steps, you can tell that the album was quintessentially made for relaxation and leisure. Living In The Country, the album’s opener, is a climactic instrumental which fully showcases the pair’s chemistry playing together. The music that occupies the rest of the album is not unlike the blissful chemistry shown on the intro song. Gordon and Kottke both, are very complimentary to each other, both instrumentally and vocally. The two have similar voices, but are distinct from one another due to what they are playing. To make it easier for those of you who decide to listen, Kottke’s croon is the slightest bit gruffer (Oh Well is a good example of Kottke’s vocal contributions on the album). The music is exactly what you would describe as a soundtrack to a Hawaiian honeymoon. Island influenced chord progressions and sound effects, with deep, booming bass and head bobbing percussion. Leo makes good use of his electric/acoustic capabilities as he utilizes a wah-wah pedal on his acoustic on a few numbers, which is a clean way to show how deep the groove is between the two. Gordon’s playing is subtly phenomenal, not in the technical sense, but how well he can accompany a much louder guitar, be extremely quiet, and still amaze me with what he’s playing. Perhaps his most shining moment on this record would be Can’t Hang- A song which could almost immediately pass for a Phish tune, if it weren’t for Kottke’s guitar. Gordon’s vocals are smooth and rich, and his bass work is textured and funky, with perhaps the only two pops and slaps on the entire record. Had the number been elongated, a Phish B-Side would have been issued.
Unfortunately, though, is the strangeness and obscurity of the album. Some moments are completely out of place (A folk cover of Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion), and a strangely dark sense of humor is purveyed in the lyrics, particularly one line in The Stolen Quiet, “I’d like to thank you for leaving me. There’s more space around here. With your tiny ass gone, there’s more room for my beer.” The song From Spink To Correctionville should’ve been obliterated entirely. It is much more a introduction to The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, or any other action Western than anything else. As good as it may sound on it’s own, compared to the rest of the album, it is on par with a black metal band turning into Christian pop punk.
One last grievance- Sixty Six Steps is the exact same sound as Clone. It is as if the two took the music from Clone and put in a key change with different lyrics. This doesn’t mean it’s bad to any extent, but I would’ve enjoyed some originality.
Strangely enough, with all the dark jokes hidden beneath the lyrics and odd Phish-like moments on Sixty Six Steps, and lack of inventiveness, Sixty Six Steps is a warm record, with all the tranquility of being poolside in Oahu. Had it been for an increased sense of novelty, maybe it could have lived up to it’s predecessor.