Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Affordable Art by Steve Goodman

I have been wanting to review the album Affordable Art by Steve Goodman ever since our Friday at the Ford concert by Mark Dvorak in early November. Dvorak's voice reminded me of Goodman at moments, though they really are very different overall. It also occurred to me that many of my younger friends probably have never heard of Goodman.

Steve Goodman died of leukemia in 1984, just before his beloved Chicago Cubs won their first pennant since 1945. He was only 36 years old. He had spent fifteen years as a professional musician, getting more national recognition as a songwriter than as a performer. He is most known for penning "The City of New Orleans" for Arlo Guthrie. In the year or so before his death he completed two albums, one of which was Affordable Art.

The album begins with "If Jethro Were Here," a lively instrumental with Goodman playing mandola. It is a tribute to the legendary mandolin player Jethro Burns, who appears later on the album

The second cut is "Vegematic," a comic song about man who fell asleep watching late night television. Goodman's best albums included several comic songs, and this is one of the most memorable. It was recorded live at a club. Goodman's line about eating eggs off commemorative presidential plates gets the biggest laugh.

"Old Smoothies" is a sweet story-song about an older couple of ice skaters.

"Talk Backwards" is a piece of vocal gymnastics that few performers could ever match. It is an exercise in "reverse elocution," and Goodman is accompanied by three finger snappers. The horns remind me of the cantina band in the original Star Wars movie.

"How Much Tequila (Did I Drink Last Night?)" sounds very C&W. Careful, the chorus may stick in your brain past the point you want it in there.

"When My Rowboat Comes In" is a gentle bluegrass song about hope and death.

At this point I have to turn the album over.

If you think "Souvenirs" sounds like a John Prine song, you are correct. Prine wrote it and joined Goodman for this recording.

Goodman was able to find a new way to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Jethro Burns accompanies him. It is a little jazzier than most renditions of the old song.

The centerpiece of the album is "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request." Goodman had had leukemia for a long time when he wrote this song, which lovingly ridicules the Cubs and their fans. There is much laughing and cheering from the audience.

"California Promises" is a total change of mood. It has a lonely sound.

"Watchin' Joey Glow" is a Tom Paxton-like song about radioactivity and modern life. (Tom Paxton writes great satirical folk songs.)

The album ends with "Grand Canyon Song," a soulful, acoustic song in praise of our natural treasure in Arizona.

If your library still has a copy of Affordable Art, check it out. It is now available on CD from many sources.

Goodman, Steve. Affordable Art. Seal Beach, CA: Red Pajamas Records, 1983.

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