Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Steve Goodman

  • Somebody Else's Troubles [Buddah, 1972] B
  • Jessie's Jig & Other Favorites [Asylum, 1975] B
  • Say It in Private [Asylum, 1978] B
  • Affordable Art [Red Pajamas, 1983] B+
  • Santa Ana Winds [Red Pajamas, 1984] B
  • No Big Surprise: The Steve Goodman Anthology [Red Pajamas, 1994] A-
  • Live at the Earl of Old Town [Red Pajamas, 2006] ***

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Somebody Else's Troubles [Buddah, 1972]
He wrote "City of New Orleans," which is not on this album, and songs about car towing and organic food, which are. Also two consecutive songs about racing the sun, which is at least one too many. Tour de force: an a cappella ballad about a Vietnam widow. Arif Mardin found the proper setting for his young man's quaver. B

Jessie's Jig & Other Favorites [Asylum, 1975]
Very likable, bright and open and good humored, but like so many solo performers, folkies especially, he can't fill an album. This isn't a question of venality--Goodman is too honest to stretch himself onto a production schedule. But his talent requires mood changes more conspicuous than so subtle an instrumentalist, or so thin a vocalist, can provide. Remember groups? B

Say It in Private [Asylum, 1978]
If a smart journeyman like Goodman were consistently great, he'd be a genius, not a smart journeyman, and on one side the smart, slick songs attract interest without commanding it. But side two is a tiny folkie tour de force, drily reworking genre expectations so that we mourn Mayor Daley, sort of, bid a jolly farewell to our century, sort of, and know that Goodman's father is dead for real. B

Affordable Art [Red Pajamas, 1983]
Finally free of the spend-money-to-make-money fallacy, a likable cult folkie puts together his most modest and most likable album. True, he's too sentimental when he's serious; even when he's funny he's too sentimental. His natural lyricism is a palliative, though, and when he's funny (about half the time) he's funny."Vegematic" and "Talk Backward" and the cruelly antinuke "Watchin' Joey Glow" may be easy jokes, but I ask you, why did the chicken cross the road? Hope he sells at least ten thousand. B+

Santa Ana Winds [Red Pajamas, 1984]
Recorded shortly before Goodman died in October, this is a fitting testament to a likable artist who often went soft around the edges. Goodman's intelligence never quelled his appetite for bathos, be it honest ("I Just Keep Falling in Love"), parodic ("Fourteen Days"), or stupid ("The Face on the Cutting Room Floor"). He liked to laugh ("The Big Rock Candy Mountain"), but though he was a clever satirist ("Hot Tub Refugee"), his targets were rarely original ("Telephone Answering Tape"). And oh yeah--he did love music ("You Better Get It While You Can (The Ballad of Carl Martin)"). Since he never made an altogether convincing album, now would be the ideal time for the indie label he founded when the majors said bye to put together a big fat compilation. Wanna help out, Asylum? Buddah? Yeah sure. B

No Big Surprise: The Steve Goodman Anthology [Red Pajamas, 1994]
Cool Hand Leuk, this impish folkie liked to call himself. When cancer finally got him after 15 years in 1984, Randy Newman could think of no apter or kinder way to open a tribute concert than "Short People," but it grieves me to report that Keith Moreland did not drop a routine fly at his funeral, as Goodman suggested in 1983's "A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request." Living in the valley of the shadow of chemo, Goodman believed in enjoying himself, and he also believed it was his job--meaning among other things the precondition of all the gratifications he refused to delay--to induce us to enjoy ourselves as well. That's one reason the live half of this double-CD is especially irresistible despite the old stuff. He's adroit, very funny, very tolerant, only rarely too warm, and incorrigibly middle-class. Up until now, he had his name on a lot of great songs and nothing anyone imagined was a great album. A-

Live at the Earl of Old Town [Red Pajamas, 2006]
Found great songs, wrote good ones, loved a laugh ("I Gotta Hand It to You," "When the Cubs Go Marching In"). ***