LEO KOTTKE AND MIKE GORDON

"Clone"

Private Music

Guitarist Leo Kottke could write a book on the art of self-reliance. In fact, prior to the release of "Clone," which pairs him with Phish bassist Mike Gordon, Kottke had never recorded a full-length album featuring a series of collaborations with another musician. So why bother now?

Could it be that Kottke has finally found a kindred spirit, someone who shares his offbeat sense of humor and musicality? Well, yes, judging by most of the tracks on "Clone," but Gordon also has something else going for him: a talent for keeping out of the way.

Truth is, "Clone" is never more engaging than when Kottke is front and center, playing six- or 12- string guitar and sometimes crooning in an amusingly sluggish baritone voice. Gordon is a better singer by far, at least by conventional standards, but his wan tenor sorely lacks the personality that Kottke offhandedly brings to the songs here, whether it's the self-penned travelogue "Middle of the Road" or the Merle Haggard favorite "I Am a Lonesome Fugitive."

Gordon, meanwhile, subtly weaves in and out of the songs and instrumentals, favoring a plump tone on electric bass and often displaying a similarly peculiar brand of songcraft. A strange assortment of tones produced by synth-guitar, "cakepan" and "skull flute" add splashes of color here and there.

The unusual setting pays off in the end; Kottke sounds right at home with his new roomie. And besides, he probably figures that at this stage in his stubbornly insular career, a little cross-generational exposure can't hurt.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Sunday at the 9:30 club. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8110. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)