Omnivore Reissues Expanded Versions of Iconic Singer-Songwriter Steve Goodman’s Final Two Albums, ‘Artistic Hair’ and ‘Affordable Art’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Casual music fans may know only one or two Steve Goodman songs, if that many. Sure, they know “City of New Orleans” and probably “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” but may not realize that Goodman wrote those songs, among many others. With these two reissues, the live Artistic Hair and his last studio effort, Affordable Art, on Goodman’s own Red Pajamas label, Omnivore is giving listeners a chance to fully appreciate the quality of Goodman’s songcraft and promises to deliver subsequent projects as well. The humble, never-starlight-seeking Goodman is often described as “beloved’ and especially on the live record, it’s his demeanor and rapport with the audience that brings that term into sharp focus. 

Goodman, who died in 1984 from leukemia, was a pillar of the Chicago folk scene and was kind of an ‘everyman” songwriter who tapped into common subjects and made humorous observations. Some of this approach is reflected in the song titles and in the sing-along nature of some of his fans’ favorites such as “Lincoln Park Pirates” and “men Who Love Women Who Love Men” which appear as bonus tracks on Artistic Hair.  In fact, between the two albums, there are 17 previously unheard bonus tracks, nine on Artistic Hair and eight on Affordable Art. Among them are solo acoustic takes of the hilarious “Vegematic,” “Od Smoothies” and a cover of Ralph McTell’s “Streets of London.” The bonus material on Artistic Hair, in addition, the two already mentioned, has a version of the Goodman/John Prine co-write “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” which was a huge hit for David Allan Coe in 1974. Note that these are previously unissued as the tracks on the main albums appeared on the anthology No Big Surprise, which is now out of print.

Also, kudos to renowned music journalist and fellow Glide staffer Lee Zimmerman who provides extensive liner notes for both albums. Lee provides five full pages of copy for each release in the booklets replete with vintage photography and song/musician credits.

Many Chicagoans are likely familiar with Goodman because of his passionate love for his Chicago Cubs. During Goodman’s lifetime, the Cubs were a perennial lovable but losing team. Affordable Art contains three baseball-themed songs. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and the laugh-inducing “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request” appears on the main album with the original single for WGN Radio in 1984, “Go Cubs Go” as one of the bonus tracks.

Goodman had some stints with major labels Buddah and Asylum but never reached the commercial success that those labels desired.  Truth be known, as unassuming and affable as Goodman was, his voice was acceptable but rather nasally and not overly appealing. (Yes, other more successful artists had those attributes too). As a result, Goodman and his manager, Al Bunetta, started their own label, Red Pajama Records. Artistic Hair, a live compilation album was the first offering and it was released to buy time for what turned out to be his last studio album, Affordable Art. Ultimately, Red Pajamas became one of the first artist-owned labels, and among the first to receive major distribution. It also served as a template when John Prine, another of Bunetta’s clients, launched his own Oh Boy Records.

Perhaps, this little anecdote about Goodman sums up his attitude and approach to life best. He knew that his days were numbered, having been diagnosed with Leukemia at a young age. Nonetheless, he persevered, giving himself the nickname, “Cool Hand Leuk,” a measure of resolve and an indication that his patented humor was intact to the very end when he passed at the far too young age of 36.  Dig in. The subsequent years have proven beyond a doubt that Goodman was far more influential than he could have possibly envisioned.

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