Pilgrim’s Playlist: Beth Orton, Steve Goodman

Recommended New Album

Beth Orton — Kidsticks

There aren’t too many artists who alternate between acoustic folk and electronica, but Beth Orton has been pulling off this rare double play for over 20 years. It’s not as schizophrenic as it sounds, it’s not like a swing between mournful ballads and dance floor explosions. She starts off with well-written songs containing compelling lyrics and distinctively fluid melodies, and simply chooses different musical treatments for different albums. It’s almost as if she could record each song either way.

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With Kidsticks it’s back to the electronica side, and depending on the tempo it conjures elements of Beach House, Hot Chip, Talking Heads or Daft Punk. “Moon” rides a great bassline from introspection to a muted boogie, while “1973” is an infectious little confection featuring Orton’s trademark bittersweet wistfulness:

Looking back in time right now to 72
I remember all the stupid things we’d do
Sitting round and speeding like its 79
there was always somewhere else I had to be in my mind
Swimming in my mind
Through a liquid sky
Looking below
Well, it changed my dreams
And now nothing is quite what it seems
It only happens elsewhere
It only happens elsewhere

Fans of Orton’s acoustic work shouldn’t be afraid of this album’s electronic presentation, it actually gives you another angle from which to appreciate her great songwriting and unique vocal delivery. In the past, her singing was frequently marred by a little pitchiness, but she seems to have mostly corrected those problems. It’s fantastic to see artists keep improving well into their forties. Great album.


A Blast From The Past

Steve Goodman — “Somebody Else’s Troubles” (1972)

If fans of folk/rock giants Jason Isbell and Ryan Adams don’t know the music of Steve Goodman, well, Google has a task for you. Goodman was a shining light of the American folk/rock scene of the 1970s, another shooting star, really, since he died in 1984 at the age of 32. He had been diagnosed with leukemia when he was in college and knew since then that his days were numbered, but by all accounts lived a very vibrant, musical life to the fullest.

His was a talent that sparkled with great songwriting, exceptional ability on the acoustic guitar, and the beautiful, versatile reedy timbre of his voice. His most famous song “City Of New Orleans” was a huge hit for Arlo Guthrie in 1972, and it kickstarted his career. Maybe not surprisingly, given his situation, Goodman’s songs tended to veer between the really funny and the really sad, making his concerts really memorable events.

Here are two of my favorite Steve Goodman songs. “Somebody Else’s Troubles” is not a political song, but it pokes fun at what is really the central political question of all time: how much do you care about other people? The song features Bob Dylan, billed as “Robert Milkwood Thomas”, on harmony vocals. “The Ballad Of Penny Evans” is an acapella anti-war song that will tear your heart out. What a voice. What a talent. Steve Goodman needs to be remembered.

Steve Goodman — “The Ballad Of Penny Evans” (1972)

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