The world probably has more than enough guitar heroes. The refreshing thing about Leo Kottke is that he likes to play the part of a guitar anti-hero.
On stage, Kottke doesn't try to come off as a demigod whose fret-burning, finger-blurring exploits should command an audience's homage. The gruff-voiced Minnesotan is more likely to play the part of a bemused, somewhat befuddled, self-deprecating humorist. Kottke, who plays solo, has the expert folk musician's knack of winning an audience not only with a display of what he can do, but with the simple charm of who he is.
What Kottke can do on his acoustic 6- and 12-string guitars is considerable. His varied, idiosyncratic approach to the guitar takes him through an extremely wide range of styles and moods that includes folk music, rock-oriented material (including a fine version of "Eight Miles High") and, more recently, excursions into jazz and African sounds.
On pieces like his 12-string bottleneck masterpiece, "Vaseline Machine Gun," which dates back to 1972, Kottke showed that he could put on a hard-driving fireworks display as exciting as the electric sallies of a Jeff Beck or Eric Clapton. On his most recent album, "That's What," Kottke's playing is the opposite of that free-firing gunnery, tending toward the spare, the austere and the contemplative.