Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Steve Goodman: “It Sure Looked Good On Paper: The Steve Goodman Demos” (2021) CD Review

Steve Goodman, a widely influential singer and songwriter, wrote and recorded a lot of excellent material, though he will probably always be known primarily for writing “City Of New Orleans,” which was a hit for Arlo Guthrie. Steve Goodman included his own version of that song on his debut, self-titled album. A different version of that song is the first track on the new release, It Sure Looked Good On Paper: The Steve Goodman Demos. This disc contains seventy-six minutes of previously unreleased Steve Goodman recordings, a mix of solo demos and band demos. That’s right, nothing on this album was heard before, which is remarkable, especially considering that several previously unreleased tracks were included in the recent re-issues of his albums. A lot of these tracks are from early in Steve Goodman’s recording career, being demos of songs that would end up on his debut LP, but there are also some great tracks from the end of his career, including two songs intended for the soundtrack of Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.

The disc opens with a full-band demo of “City Of New Orleans.” It is a wonderfully cheerful rendition, moving at a good pace, seeming just a bit faster than his originally released version. There is a cool bridge just past the halfway point, and a different ending. This track makes me want to hit the road, in a car if not a train, and wake up next to some beautiful vista. That’s followed by a solo demo of “The Sun & The Bridge,” a perfect choice, for it begins in the morning with the line “The sun rose over the bridge every morning.” This is a mellower, more introspective number, with some great lines like “Letting poets do all my thinking for me” and “I can’t stop my mind from rambling, so it goes.” “Climb The Hills To Dale” is another mellow track, though this one has the full band. There is a somber tone, and his delivery has a compelling sound. “And we’d walk down mountain paths together/Sharing dreams to last forever/But nevermore will I wander to that high and snowy hand/No more my love walks with me hand in hand.”

This disc includes a solo demo of “Jazzman,” a song that would be included on Steve Goodman’s debut album, this version having a very different vibe from that album version. I prefer this solo version. “Mama, I’m a jazzman trying a trick or two.” This is one of only a few songs on this release not written by Steve Goodman. It was written by Edward Holstein. That’s followed by a band demo of “Hands On Time.” These lines certainly feel like they’re speaking to us in the strange days: “But if there’s no fear, you can keep your head clear/And trouble won’t cloud up your mind/And you won’t get so lonely, with time on your hands/You have your hands on some time.”

The band demo of “Eight Ball Blues” included here has a different sound from the track that would be included on Steve Goodman’s self-titled LP, and again, I think this version is actually better. This is kind of a playful number. “And I wish I had the common sense to be satisfied with me/Is this the part where I came in, I’ve seen this show before/And I’ve had me a couple too many, but I think I can find the door.” There are a lot of lines that ought to bring a smile to your face. That’s followed by the demo of another song from his first album, “Would You Like To Learn To Dance,” this one a solo demo, with a sweet, tender and intimate sound and delivery. “Would you like to learn to love?/Well, that’s something else again/I can show you how to sing and smile and dance/But, oh, I have no keys to open your heart/No way that I could make you take the chance.”

It’s wonderful that this release includes so many tracks from the early days. “Turnpike Tom” is another song from that debut release. This solo demo version features some excellent work on guitar. The song’s last line, “And remember that you only fall for lies and stories when you really want to,” makes me ponder a large segment of this country’s population. A lot of folks must really want to be lied to, for they are still clinging to Trump’s soiled coattails.  And speaking of shady politics, that is followed by “Ballad Of Paul Powell,” though in the spoken word intro, Steve says “This song is called ‘When It’s Coupon-Clipping Time At The Racetrack, Baby Baby Baby, I’ll Come Shoeboxing Back To You.’” Hell, maybe things never change, for these lines seem to be speaking directly about that bum who oh-so-recently left the White House: “He swore to serve ‘em young, and he swore to serve ‘em old/And he swore to serve ‘em bullshit while he kept all the gold.” He is angrier in this song than in most, singing, “And I hope your coffin rusts/And you won’t be around to rob us/No, you won’t be around to rob us/No, you won’t come around to rob us anymore.”

“Yellow Coat” is yet another song from his debut album, this one a solo demo. This song feels like a personal letter, or perhaps phone call, sort of in the same vein as Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat.”  Do your neighbors still complain a bit when the music gets too loud/Does your old cat still have to sleep up on the bed/Do you still walk around like your head was in the clouds.” The disc’s final track from that first album is “You Never Even Call Me By My Name,” a song co-written by John Prine and recorded by David Allan Coe. This is a solo demo version. “You don’t have to call me darling, darling/But you never even call me by my name.” And, yes, it includes that spoken word section where he mentions Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride and Merle Haggard. That is followed by solo demos of two songs that would be included on Steve Goodman’s 1972 LP Somebody Else’s Troubles – “The Dutchman,” which was written by Michael Smith, and “Song For David.”

Steve Goodman wrote a lot of excellent lyrics. Check out these lines from “Kiss Me Goodbye Again”: “And I wanted to stay but was scared of the sorrow/Your beauty had brought to the room/I was waiting around for times to get worse/Before they got better and I found/That all I was doing was dragging us down to the ground.” This track is one of my personal favorites. It is followed by a cover of “The Auctioneer,” a song written by Leroy Van Dyke and Buddy Black. This song was included on the compilation No Big Surprise: The Steve Goodman Anthology, released in 1994, and on Live ’69, which was released last year. The version here is a solo demo, a studio recording. Then we get “Six Pack,” a song about someone who races cars and has a wandering soul. “I fell in love a time or two, but no one’s ever found a way to make me stay/And every time I settled down, the sound of roaring engines took my mind away/I never needed anyone, and I was sure that no one needed me.” This song was written for the 1980 film Used Cars, but not used.

Two songs on this disc were written for the 1982 Steve Martin film Dead Man Don’t Wear Plaid (a movie I loved as a kid, but haven’t revisited). Neither song ended up being used in the film. The first is titled “Dead Man Don’t Wear Plaid,” and in this one Steve Goodman sings “They never take an educated guess/Dead men don’t wear plaid/They’re always late for dinner/Because dead man can’t remember your address.” It also features a bit of whistling at the end. I love this song, and wonder why it wasn’t included in the film. I need to watch that movie again. “Face On The Cutting Room Floor” is the second track written for that movie, and it too is a totally delightful number. “No one will give her a star on the walk/She’d have a hundred if pillows could talk/Where have I seen her before/She’s the face on the cutting room floor.” That’s followed by the album’s title track, “It Sure Looked Good On Paper.” This one had me laughing before the song even started, with that spoken word introduction. He tells us: “I have one verse and the chorus. This doesn’t have to be the first verse. In fact, it would be better if it wasn’t.” And halfway through the song, he hums along with the guitar. “So there’s that one,” he says at the end. Then he adds, “Help.” The album concludes with “The Water Is Wide,” a song that was included on Artistic Hair. This is another that Steve Goodman did not write. The version here, a solo demo, is quite a bit longer than that album version.

CD Track List

  1. City Of New Orleans
  2. The Sun & The Bridge
  3. Climb The Hills To Dale
  4. Jazzman
  5. Hands On Time
  6. Eight Ball Blues
  7. Would You Like To Learn Do Dance
  8. Turnpike Tom
  9. Ballad Of Paul Powell
  10. Yellow Coat
  11. You Never Even Call Me By My Name
  12. The Dutchman
  13. Song For David
  14. Kiss Me Goodbye Again
  15. The Auctioneer
  16. Six Pack
  17. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid
  18. Face On The Cutting Room Floor
  19. It Sure Looked Good On Paper
  20. The Water Is Wide

It Sure Looked Good On Paper: The Steve Goodman Demos is scheduled to be released on May 14, 2021 through Omnivore Recordings.

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