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Live at the Earl of Old Town

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Album Review

Steve Goodman, more than two decades after his death from leukemia, still retains a strong following among devotees of folk-derived singer/songwriters who also play a wicked acoustic guitar and happen to worship the Chicago Cubs. Posthumous Goodman CD releases don't trickle out very often, but when they do, those fans grab them up quickly. Live at the Earl of Old Town provides plenty of reasons for them to rejoice. Recorded in August 1978 at the Chicago club where Goodman got his start (and not a reissue of his similarly titled debut album, Gathering at the Earl of Old Town), the tape surfaced after decades stashed away. The recording boasts excellent sound quality, but more importantly it captures Goodman at the peak of his artistry. His cleverness is in high gear in "Men Who Love Women Who Love Men," the final word on sexuality-identity/open-mindedness tunes, and he's got the crowd in stitches with Shel Silverstein's hysterical "Three Legged Man." A tribute to Goodman's wife, "I Gotta Hand It to You," gives credit where it's due in a love song that's purely romantic while remaining devoid of sap. Goodman's cover choices are never less than intriguing, either, while country standards such as Terry Fell's "Truck Drivin' Man" and Leon Payne's "Lost Highway" (made famous by Hank Williams) had already been covered by dozens of artists before Goodman got to them, he managed to bring a fresh sparkle to them. Ditto the offbeat choice of Bobby Day's '50s hit "Rockin' Robin," to which he applies just enough rock grit to assure that it's not the Michael Jackson version he's aping. Goodman's take on the Harry Woods oldie "Red Red Robin" (the evening's other robin-themed tune)is a welcomed excuse to indulge in some fancy fretwork of the Doc Watson school (with a touch of Django), and his bottleneck work on Albert E. Brumley's oft-recorded gospel classic "I'll Fly Away," dueling it out with guest Corky Siegel's harmonica, is stunning, renovating the song completely. Another special guest, Jethro Burns (of Homer & Jethro fame), lends his mandolin to Goodman's "Family Tree." And yes, of course, there's "City of New Orleans," the song for which Goodman is best remembered, via Arlo Guthrie's 1972 hit cover. Goodman treats it like any other number in his set, no special fanfare, yet it is, unsurprisingly, well-received by the faithful. He's saving his real enthusiasm for the show's penultimate performance, though: "When the Cubs Go Marching In." Had he lived, he'd undoubtedly still be waiting for them to be in that number.


Born: 25 July 1948 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s

Growing up in what he called "a Midwestern middle-class Jewish family," Steve Goodman began playing the guitar as a teenager. He was influenced by the folk revival of the early '60s and by country performers such as Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. After attending college in the mid-'60s, he turned to playing in Chicago clubs by night and writing commercial jingles by day. In 1971, he opened for Kris Kristofferson and was seen by Paul Anka, who financed demo recordings that led to a contract with...
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Live at the Earl of Old Town, Steve Goodman
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