S.G. Goodman Vs. The South

(This article appeared on SPIN.com)

One of the fun parts of writing some more music features has been getting to check out artists I wouldn’t otherwise find. Admittedly, I spend most of my listening time either on podcasts (hey, why not throw in a pitch for the shows that I produce for the Yankees Magazine Podcast Network!) or on groups that I already love, whether The Hold Steady, or Bruce Springsteen, or Jason Isbell, or anything else like that.

Obviously, though, just by virtue of having published a few pieces at SPIN, I’ve gotten on some publicists’ lists, and when I skimmed through an email blast about S.G. Goodman, something about it screamed out at me. I’m fascinated by Southern music — not from a point of great insight or intelligence (as I told my brother recently, when he asked how I became an expert in this, “I’m obviously faking it well enough!), but rather just looking at how different acts can emerge from a position that, at least to my mind, hasn’t been the primary focus of the genre. Goodman has a church choir background and sings a lot to the farmers and coal miners in her native Kentucky. She’s also an out member of the LGBTQ+ community, vocal in her opposition to Mitch McConnell. With the 2020 election on the horizon, and the world falling apart, I wanted to see how she handles the contradictions I saw in her life, and how she uses them to create art.

Admittedly, it helped that her album was produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, which helped draw the attention of my editor at SPIN (and mine, as well). So even though it was a debut album from an unknown artist, there was a major figure in the industry involved, which helped me sell the piece.

Speaking with S.G. over FaceTime, as she sat under a giant hat, preparing for an afternoon at the lake, I was taken in by the same combination of earnestness and don’t-give-a-fuck-ness that also drew in James when they first met. We chatted for about an hour about what she wants from Kentucky, why she believes in the state, and why she stays (a topic that she addresses clearly on the album’s title track). But we also went deep on some of the pains that she sings about, the way she put out what is essentially a suicide note as the lead track on her debut album, and the way she refuses to pretend to be someone she’s not, even if it costs her record downloads/streams/sales. One of the most interesting points she made to me, which I wasn’t able to fit into the article, was that she actually enjoys the fact that the album was coming out at this moment, when people are stuck at home. She didn’t want her lyrics to be background noise on a commute. She wants people to wrestle with them. I really liked that about her.

I’m fascinated to see what she does next. The response so far has been really strong, and I adore the album. I hope that you’ll read the article, and also check out the music for yourself.