Steve Goodman – Artistic Hair – Omnivore/Red Pajamas Records – Review by John Apice
Omnivore Records has scheduled to re-release 4 remastered LPs of the late Steve Goodman: the first two available July 19th & the next — Unfinished Business & Santa Ana Winds Aug. 9th – that review to follow.
The first two in expanded editions — Artistic Hair & Affordable Art are the final 2 Goodman LPs recorded prior to his 1984 passing. For those unfamiliar with the good-humored Steve Goodman he composed Arlo Guthrie’s classic song “The City of New Orleans,” now an American standard & it endeared Goodman to a large audience. Goodman — an avid Chicago Cubs fan also wrote “Go Cubs Go,” – a song embraced by sports fans.
Yet, Steve — an underrated singer-songwriter — recorded many wonderful tunes. His career was lifted when he met Kris Kristofferson who introduced Steve to Paul Anka & was signed to Buddha Records. Goodman met Arlo Guthrie in a bar & Arlo asked him to sing something for him. Steve sang “The City of New Orleans,” – the rest is history. One of Steve’s closest friends & co-writer was also John Prine.
As Steve’s career took shape he was diagnosed with leukemia & passed away at 36 in 1984. These are his last two LPs. The first — all live, has 22-tracks compiled over 10 years. Artistic Hair opens with a well-recorded compilation performance. Goodman is in fine voice & judging from the audience – quite popular. Goodman was not just a stand-up singer but a polished fun performer/entertainer. A cross between John Prine with a little Pete Seeger as witnessed by “Let’s Give a Party.” The mandolin (Jethro Burns) is superb as well – with bass by Hugh McDonald.
A marvelous Christmas “Winter Wonderland,” is included and is a hoot. A song written for Elvis imitators that Steve did with respectful expertise — never condescending. Exemplifying his — diversification with a fiery “Tico, Tico” – that is fascinating as a short, excellent acoustic guitar instrumental & Steve’s invigorating on acoustic guitar during the old standard “Red, Red Robin.”
One of Steve’s best vocals comes on “The Water Is Wide,” – a shame he never had a chance to sing a duet of this with the English folk singer June Tabor. Both of their versions are poignant. David Amram adds whistle, flute & percussion.
For an added frame of reference, Steve Goodman was solidly in that club as the late Jim Croce, Gram Parsons, Townes Van Zandt, Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, Phil Ochs (when not too political), & Fred Neil. He was indeed that good.
Jazzier — “Chicken Cordon Blues,” finds Steve’s voice bluesier, his humor balanced, & the audience receptive. A guarantee that this man was indeed multi-talented & should’ve gone far in the entertainment world. I could see Steve perform with the late legendary Bobby Darin. They had some common ground in writing, vocals & performance. Could Goodman sing a slow middle-of-the-road tune like Sinatra or Darin? I think so. “Old Fashioned,” girl — would’ve been a perfect Sinatra/Darin tune. It would be a perfect Tony Bennett song today. Warm, lounge-jazz, well-written MOR & perfectly suited to Steve’s voice.
Finally, a John Prine co-written song made famous by outlaw legend David Allan Coe – “You Never Even Called Me by My Name” appears twice – the 2nd version close to a good imitation of Jimmie Dale Gilmore.
Like Randy Newman & Tom Waits, Steve’s stage presence & audience between-song patter was always entertaining.
The first 12 tracks were produced by Steve Goodman & Dan Einstein. The reissue produced by Cheryl Pawelski.
Track 13 begins the 10 live songs originally issued as No Big Surprise, a Steve Goodman Anthology.
With “The Wonderful World of Sex,” Goodman’s humor obviously is pulled from the same well John Prine often visits. The wonderful “Men Who Love Women Who Love Men,” has a solid Phil Ochs vocal feel & a potent sax & percussion take-off. Ochs, however, was never this hilarious. Leroy Van Dyke’s “The Auctioneer,” is a stunner. “The Broken String Song,” is inventive & creative. “I’ll Fly Away,” an ancient track touches Ry Cooder slide guitar territory & Steve’s vocal comes off effectively as an aged black man of the backwoods. On “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” Goodman steps briefly into the late Leon Redbone’s backyard.
The 1 hour & 14-minute CD is available at Amazon, & Discogs. The 2nd LP review follows.