Finding new ways to present old themes, submitting timeless modes with fresh perspectives, and offering it all up in a way that is compelling, original, and sonorous enough to rise through the grey din of modern music noise and strike a unique chord is what S.G. Goodman labored to put forth and rightly accomplishes with her debut album Old Time Feeling. Produced by Jim James of My Morning Jacket, the record captures blistering honesty, sparse beauty, spirited expressions, and stretches the possibilities of country music while still nestling within its sonic and thematic values.
S.G. Goodman comes from the fertile country music ground of Kentucky, specifically the rural Western border regions right up against the Mississippi river where rows of crops unfurl like quilt patterns when viewed from above. She sang in church choirs from a tender age, and later fell in with an indie scene in the Kentucky college town of Murray. Setting forth a sincere love for the simple and earthen ideals of rural American life, but run through a broadened perspective and a bit of a rebellious streak, Old Time Feeling says so much through both music and lyric, even when taking an austere approach to both.
Immediately upon cuing up this record you’re undivided attention is earned when the bold and confident voice of S.G. Goodman comes bursting out in a watery tone on the opening track “Space And Time,” rendered way too loud in the mix in the best of ways, and reminiscent of classic country female crooners. This purposeful centering of S.G.’s vocal signal persists throughout this record, whether the music is hushed or lush, which it veers in between on the 10 tracks. The second song immediately evokes flashbacks of Grace Slick and the psychedelia era where the Pacific Ocean, not the Mississippi River defined the Western border.
Though the trendy streak of rootsy women performers saddling up with indie rock dudes to produce their records has long since become tiresome, Jim James is not entirely foreign to country roots like some others. There is plenty to second guess in how these recordings were approached, and the progressive styling will be a polarizing subject among purists. But even if plenty of decisions on Old Time Feeling that are ripe to second guess, the record just works in that way which is undeniable. Whether it’s in spite of or because of the production approach, S.G. Goodman and her little songs still shine, relegating all other concerns to audiophile talk.
However you label the music, listening to the songs themselves, it’s easy to deduce they’re country to their core. Sprouting from the fertile Kentucky ground and intertwining with the little details of the rural-raised experience, they’re reminiscent, and sometimes foreboding. You can’t write a song like “The Way I Talk” about the web that ensnares so many in rural areas as factories and factory farms hold more of the cards and ensnare locals too nostalgic to leave without having lived it. Goodman is also good and honest about the conflict some Southerns feel about where they’re from. For Goodman this inner dialogue concludes in resolve as opposed to loathing and escape.
The Southern State is a condition it’s true
I’ve got a little proposition for you
Stick around and work your way through
Be the change you hope to find
S.G. Goodman also engages in more simple poetry and sentimental moments. She could always choose to make a straightforward country record in the future, and this selection of songs underscore this. But she made Old Time Feeling for right now, and it sounds prescient and fresh. Don’t miss the flourishes of steel guitar that may be low in the mix, but make their presence known without getting in the way. The record is probably more folk rock or Americana by any fair assessment, but it yearns through its rage for the simplicity and ease of country, like wanting to turn time back to simpler moments.
Along with maybe being a little too “out there” for some, certain stretches of Old Time Feeling feel a little too tired or sleepy. It’s the space rendered in certain songs that lets their magic flourish. But consistently calling upon this approach begins to grow a stale as you near the end.
Nonetheless, you’ll be re-racking the finer moments of this record, and discovering new wrinkles and subtleties subsequent times through. Some will claim Old Time Feeling is one of the best of the yearly cycle, and thanks to the songwriting and an imaginative approach to the recording, that’s not an unfair discussion to have.
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