John Prine's record label Oh Boy! can usually be counted on for quality music, and he hasn't disappointed in the month of September. The label's two new releases, Dan Reeder's sophomore album Sweetheart and Steve Goodman's Live at the Earl of Old Town, are both superb.
Reeder has the kind of world-weary rasp that makes it easy to understand why Prine would be drawn to him. He has Prine's wit and fine eye for detail, too. He's a crass son-of-a-gun (three of the song titles are "I Drink Beer," "Pussy Titty," and "Pussy Heaven"), but I can't fault him too much. The middle song is a wry commentary on men's room graffiti, while "I Drink Beer" solemnly declares, ""I drink beer to improve my mind/End all war, and help mankind/Through these dark and trying times.'' Yeah, me too. He takes Procol Harum's prog-rock classic "Whiter Shade of Pale" and turns it into a Neil Young country-folk ditty, and on "Bach is Dead and Gone" he offers a line that has to be in the running for lyric of the year: "I said, 'Let's write some motets.' He was already done." Cynicism and a heart that cares in spite of itself haven't sounded this good since Prine's early albums.
I love Steve Goodman, and have almost everything he's ever recorded, so I may not be the most objective source here. But somebody unearthed a long buried concert tape from 1978, and for me this is the equivalent of a life-changing archaeological discovery. The sound is miraculously good, Goodman is at the height of his powers, which means that he's funny, sad, profound, and a hell of an acoustic guitar picker, and he concludes his hour-long set with an ode to the Chicago Cubs, who were only four games out of first place when the concert was recorded.
They finished 11 games out of first. They will break your heart every time. Those of you who care about Chicago know that the Cubs can do that. So can Steve Goodman, who was thirty years old when this concert was recorded, and who died a mere six years later of leukemia, just a few days before the Cubs clinched their first playoff appearance in what would have been his lifetime. I love his songs and I love the way he plays them here; full tilt, no-holds-barred, heart-on-the-sleeve folk music that somehow manages to rock. He was a great talent, and I still miss him, and I'm glad to have another artifact of his too short life.