Steve Goodman – Affordable Art – Omnivore/Red Pajamas Records – Review by John Apice
Omnivore Records is scheduled to release 4 remastered LPs of the late Steve Goodman (author of “The City of New Orleans”) — the first July 19th — Artistic Hair & Affordable Art & then on August 9th, Unfinished Business & Santa Ana Winds.
This 2nd LP Affordable Art has clarity & cleverness that exhibits a rich humorous writing style evident with Steve’s co-writer & friend John Prine. Yet, despite the fine line that separates them there are hints as well of the late Roger Miller who injected humor into his top 40 hits, but his clever lyrics & excellent melodies helped keep his tunes above the novelty waters.
Miller, like Goodman, had a serious side (“River in the Rain”) – which is exquisite. Goodman’s songs never sound silly or contrived because he was always a quality songwriter. On the LP Affordable Art, Steve explored & labored over lyrical stories many songwriters ignored or missed.
Goodman’s position as an original artist hasn’t really been filled since his passing. Jim Croce wrote about Leroy Brown, time in a bottle, not messing around with Jim. He smoked big cigars & was an effective stylist. Randy Newman was satirical, melodic, sarcastic, controversial & caustic. Tom Waits was gruff, visited jazz alleys, blues tenements, old hotels, seedy lounges, sad whores & greasy diners. Springsteen tapped factories. Mellencamp tapped the heartland. Dylan was Dylan. Goodman had a keen eye for the details of everyday average life in a humorous lane. The everyman.
Goodman teetered on the precipice of novelty but was not gullible. His songs had messages. The talking blues shuffle of “Talk Backwards,” as the horns (Jim Rothermel) pepper the melody with jazz runs, while Steve jive talks with precision. It tapped into a part of Phil Ochs, applied a pinch of humor, added expertise & spewed it all ultimately through a spirited colander – to emerge with Goodman authenticity.
“How Much Tequila Did I Drink Last Night?” is a refreshing melodic commercial track. With this, he shared a seat with Shel Silverstein & Dr. Hook – with finesse. Steve played acoustic & electric guitar, Pete Bunetta (drums), Rick Chudacoff (bass & synthesizer), Rick N. Backer (?) – slide guitar.
Goodman’s “When My Rowboat Comes In,” featured country-giant Marty Stuart (mandolin), Jerry Douglas (dobro), Jimmy Tittle (bass), Sharon & Cheryl White (harmony vocals). Steve Goodman covered John Prine’s “Souvenirs,” & the “gift” here, what’s magical — is their dual acoustic guitars & Prine singing with Steve. Theirs was a very special friendship.
Performance-wise — serious listeners may not care for an oldie like “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” but the Les Paul-type guitar is precious. Goodman’s sincere vocals, with Jethro Burns’ mandolin sparkles.
“A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” is a brave take. Goodman kept things clever, creative, humorous, optimistic — despite his own future. Fate took Steve by the hand — 11-days after he died, the Chicago Cubs – his favorite team – played their first playoff game since 1945 at Wrigley Field. Goodman magic?
With Steve playing mandola, on “Watchin’ Joey Glow,” it’s a style from John Prine’s songbook. It’s evident Steve still had many things to say in many ways.
Bonus tracks (8) open with the hit single recorded (with the Chicago Cubs Chorus). “Go Cubs Go,” — a superb uplifting song. You didn’t need to be a Cubs fan to appreciate it. I’m a NY Yankee fan — I love & respect what Steve Goodman did for the Cubs. It showed class.
A cover of the beautiful, classic Ralph McTell song “Streets of London,” is played excellently. Why? Because England’s McTell is from that John Prine-Steve Goodman-Townes Van Zandt-Tim Hardin-David Blue school of classy writers & performers. It’s where Nick Drake, John Martyn, Duncan Browne, David McWilliams, Clifford T Ward & Chris Rea reside.
I wonder why Steve didn’t write another storytelling song like “City of New Orleans.” But I guess – it isn’t that easy.
What befell Goodman ultimately may have been the same issues past singer-songwriter’s like Dan Friedman, Michael Dinner, Bruce McPherson, Norman Greenbaum, Ron Nagle, Phillip-Goodhand Tait & Tim Moore experienced. Adam Mitchell’s “French Waltz,” to many ears draws a blank despite an infectious memorable melody & lyric.
This is a second chance to discover Steve Goodman.
The first 12 tracks produced by Steve Goodman & Dan Einstein. “Talk Backwards,” produced by Pete Bunetta & Rick Chudacoff. The reissue produced by Cheryl Pawelski. The 1 hour nine-minute CD is available at Amazon, & Discogs.
Reviews for the Aug 9th release Unfinished Business & Santa Ana Winds to follow.