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July/August 2002

Lenny Breau/Richard Cotten
Pickin' Cotten
Guitarchives

Despite his genius, Lenny Breau was woefully underrecorded due to his extensive personal problems, transient lifestyle and untimely demise in 1984. Intent on correcting that deficiency, rocker Randy Bachman (Guess Who, B.T.O.), a former student of Breau's, has made a crusade of unearthing performances and issuing them on his own label, Guitarchives, whose most recent offering is Pickin' Cotten (Guitarchives), which features Breau in concert with bass guitarist Richard Cotten at Nashville's Blue Bird in 1977.

This isn't a flawless recording: there's a modicum of tape hiss and fretboard/ string clicks in the background. Moreover, Breau stumbles at times, although his stumbles are frequently better than most players' best efforts, and Cotten's contributions are workmanlike, resulting in little interplay. That having been said, the sound is clear, with Breau's occasional grunts and groans attesting to the relaxed setting and receptive audience that no doubt contained many Nashville pickers looking for a guitar lesson. The material is all standard jazz fare, tunes Breau dug blowing on, including "On Green Dolphin Street," "I Love You," "Scrapple From the Apple," "Autumn Leaves," "La Funkallero" and "Stella by Starlight." Lenny's playing, though, was never standard. Throughout, he conjures many of the stylistic trademarks that have made him a veritable legend among guitarists: unique extended chord voicings, rippling octave harmonics and virtuosic single-note lines.

As the set transpires and Breau poignantly addresses the audience between numbers, it's hard not to get a feel for the tragic aspects of his life, one byproduct of which was that he frequently performed and recorded with musicians who were clearly beneath his artistic level, something that is reflected in this recording's mix of flaws and virtues. Accompanying press material pledges "artist royalties from these releases to Lenny's children."

Originally published in July/August 2002
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