Steve Goodman may not be a name most listeners would recognize, but you may well have heard his songs. A superb storyteller, he will forever be known by his endearing compositions “City Of New Orleans” (a hit for both Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson) and “You Never Even Called Me By My Name,” a hilarious jab at country music songwriting that was a hit for David Allan Coe. Yet in spite of his success with others, Goodman never had the big hit solo career he probably deserved. It wasn’t for lack of trying, as a recent Morello Records twofer shows. This collection offers up his first two albums for Asylum Records, 1975’s Jessie’s Jig & Other Favorites and 1976’s Words We Can Dance To.
On one hand, it’s easy to understand why commercial success evaded him. Goodman simply wasn’t a strong vocalist. His wasn’t a badsinging voice; instead, it was somewhat vanilla and lacked a distinctive flair. Yet Goodman compensated in the most amazing way, and that was through witty lyrics and sophisticated arrangements. Furthermore, he cleverly mixed the original material on these two albums with well-chosen pop, jazz, and country standards. Pairing vintage tracks with his own modern take on country swing and pop gives his music a timeless feel. These two albums combined sound like a really cool radio broadcast from 75 years ago.
You’ve heard “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie” and “Tossing & Turning” and “The Glory Of Love,” yet mixed in with his own numbers like the swinging jazz of “Between The Lines” and “Unemployed,” those covers sound like originals. That’s how good Goodman’s arrangements were. He sounded like a troubadour from another era. Swing, Bluegrass, Folk, Country—that was his stock in trade, and he did it well. He could be hilarious when delivering a political message (“Banana Republics”) or telling a tale from the road (“This Hotel Room”). But Goodman could also tackle darker subjects, such as the cringe-worthy “Death Of A Salesman” which pairs a Scottish folk melody with a story of a creepy sexual predator who gets his comeuppance. Occasionally, he’d go for straight rock, as on “Can’t Go Back,” which offers up its own delight.
Sadly, Goodman passed away way too young, dying from leukemia in 1984 at the age of 36. But he left behind a legacy of superb and clever material. Last year, Omnivore Recordings reissued a handful of his final releases, with more on the way. These two early albums serve those releases well, and offer twenty musical gems worthy of rediscovery, an hour’s worth of fine, fun, and delightful music.
Purchase Steve Goodman Jessie’s Jig & Other Delights/Words We Can Dance To: Morello Records / Amazon