Steve Goodman: Artistic Hair & Affordable Art

Bonus-lad­en reissues of Steve Goodman’s final two albums

Goodman lived his entire professional career on borrowed time. Diagnosed with leukemia in 1969, he made the most of his 15 years on the public stage. His best known song, “City of New Orleans,” was a hit for Arlo Guthrie, and again for Willie Nelson, and is recounted from his debut album in live form on Artistic Hair. But his most sung song is the Chicago Cubs victory anthem “Go Cubs Go,” included as a bonus track on this reissue of Affordable Art. The latter album, the last released during Goodman’s lifetime, includes a double-header of baseball-themed tracks in its original lineup, “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request,” and a sprightly dawg-grass arrangement of the national pastime classic “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Goodman recorded for Buddah and Asylum before inaugurating his own Red Pajama label with this pair of albums, reissued here with eighteen bonus tracks between them. 1983’s Artistic Hair was constructed from live material cherry-picked from a decade’s worth of recordings. The selected tracks show off the intimate stage presence that matched the intellectual intimacy of Goodman’s music. The material features a half dozen originals, including the humorous realities of  “Elvis Imitators” and “Chicken Cordon Bleus,” and the icons “City of New Orleans” and “You Never Even Called Me By Name.” Goodman’s covers ranged widely from early twentieth century tunes “Tico Tico,” “Red Red Robin” and “Winter Wonderland” to Shel Silverstein’s acoustic blues, “Three-Legged Man.”

The album’s ten bonus tracks, originally released on the posthumous No Big Surprise: The Steve Goodman Anthology, feature a similar mix of originals and covers, including Goodman’s chanty about a notorious Chicago-area towing company, “Lincoln Park Pirates,” the ad-libbed stage performer’s nightmare, “The Broken String Song,” and the celebration of love’s polyglot nature, “Men Who Love Women Who Love Men.” Covers include Leroy Van Dyke’s tongue-twisting “The Auctioneer,” the Albert Brumley spiritual “I’ll Fly Away” and the mid-30s dance tune “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” popularly recorded by Fats Waller, the Ink Spots and Patti Page. Goodman is relaxed and confident as he variously performs solo and with a band, and while the settings and recording quality vary, the constructed set is a treat.

Affordable Art mixes live and studio tracks, with a song list composed almost entirely of originals. The album opens with the instrumental “If Only Jethro Was Here,” featuring Goodman on mandola and Jim Rothermel on recorder, and highlighting mandolinist Jethro Burns’ absence. Burns himself is heard on an old-timey rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” which is stretched into a double with Goodman’s “A Dying Cubs Fan’s Last Request,” and legged into a triple with the bonus track “Go Cubs Go.” As on his previous album of live material, Goodman is heard both solo and with a band, including the driving drums and electric slide of “How Much Tequila (Did I Drink Last Night)?” and an acoustic ensemble highlighted by Marty Stuart’s mandolin and Jerry Douglas’ dobro on the hopeful “When My Rowboat Comes In.”

Goodman’s humor drives the consumerist fever dream “Vegematic” the sardonic “Watching Joey Glow,” and the jazzy shuffle “Talk Backwards.”  He duets with John Prine for their co-written “Souvenirs” and dips into sentimental nostalgia on “Old Smoothies,” evidencing the humanity that anchored the wide reach of his songwriting. The album’s bonus tracks include the sing-a-long Bo Diddley beat of “Go Cubs Go” and seven previously unreleased acoustic tracks that include British folk singer Ralph McTell’s “Streets of London,” studio alternates of “Old Smoothies” and “Vegematic,” and four more originals. Affordable Art provides a solid capstone to Goodman’s career, and together with Artistic Hair shows off his songwriting, guitar wizardry, studio craft, stage presence, and power as both a solo performer and band leader. These are worthwhile upgrades for fans who have earlier editions. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

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