Before playing “Waymore’s Blues,” an old Waylon Jennings number, recently at Union Stage, SG Goodman told the audience, “Country is everywhere, and we’re about to have an old-school honky tonkin’.”
Like many contemporary female artists — Margo Price, Nikki Lane, and Shannon McNally come to mind — Goodman takes inspiration from country outlaws. But she puts her on unique spin on it, filtered through her experiences as a queer woman.
A native of small-town, rural Kentucky, SG channels the lives and struggles of the people who live in such places through her insightful lyrics and unique, craggy voice. She leans into the aspects of that life that some might shy away from. She named her current tour, The Patron Saint of the Dollar Store, because of the large number of Dollar Generals in her hometown, and she arrived at Union Stage on Oct. 28 for a date on that tour.
SG made all kinds of merchandise around this theme, including unscented air fresheners. The air fresheners are unscented, she said, “because I don’t know you like that.” As this quip demonstrates, SG has a fine dry wit, one that can cut like sandpaper. One of the funnier comments of the night came when she said, “Mitch McConnell hasn’t been in Kentucky in 15 years.” Mentally, I’m not sure he’s even been on the planet for a while.
More seriously, Goodman deals honestly and emotionally with the problems of life in small-town America. At Union Stage, she opened with “The Way I Talk,” a song about how she is perceived because of her distinctive accent. The haunting pairing of “If You Were Someone I Loved” and “You Were Someone I Loved,” draws a vivid picture of grief in the face of the opiate epidemic. These songs, with their ethereal beauty, made for perfect autumnal listening. For her encore, Goodman sent the audience home with “Work Until I Die,” a song about the fate of people who can’t ever afford to retire.
Watch SG Goodman perform “Work Until I Die” live for Relix on YouTube:
As a society, we need people like SG now, because they can help us form connections in our increasingly polarized society. Many of us liberal folks who live in coastal cities don’t have a connection to, or a sense of the struggles of, people who come from where she does. These problems — poverty, drug abuse, and a cycle of decline — are very real, and they deserve to be addressed. As an artist, queer woman, and a college graduate who studied philosophy (and who continues to live where she grew up), Goodman has one foot in both of these worlds.
Goodman considers herself a country artist, and it’s hard to argue with that when she has a pedal steel guitar in her band. But her style also encompasses bluesy roots rock, and it falls into the singer-songwriter genre as well. Like many of my favorite artists, such as Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams, it’s hard to pigeonhole Goodman neatly into one category. And that’s part of the charm of her music; she can do a Waylon tune, and she’s clearly influenced by Dylan on “If It Ain’t Me, Babe.”
After releasing an album last year, Goodman is already hard at work on writing new material. The band left the stage, and Goodman played one of the new tunes solo. She explained that her father played solitaire, and that she had been in a relationship with a very skilled high-level poker player. The river in the song is a reference to the “river” in that game. Speaking of that album, SG played the title cut, as well as the title track from her first album, Old Time Feeling.
Goodman closed her main set with “Space and Time,” the lead-off track from her first album, at Union Stage. Recently, Tyler Childers made it one of two covers on his latest album. There’s no finer compliment for a songwriter than to have their material covered by someone who is, themselves, a great writer.
Unfortunately, transit issues prevented me from hearing the opening act, Why Bonnie. I arrived just as they were finishing up, but from what I heard they sounded great. And, of course, Goodman and her band sounded great, as they have each time I’ve seen them live.