Review: S.G. Goodman blends rock, gospel in tasty debut

S.G Goodman, “Old Time Feeling” (Verve Forecast)

To draw a bead on the unique artistry of S.G. Goodman, it helps to know that she claims the influences of power-chord guitar legend Link Wray and her southern Baptist roots in almost the same breath.

That’s hard to reconcile, sure, but so is the feat she pulls off in her engaging debut album “Old Time Feeling.” The album, produced by fellow Kentuckian Jim James, lead singer of My Morning Jacket, takes those and other influences and runs with them.

Wray’s calloused fingerprints can be sensed most directly in the title cut, which sounds like someone paired Patsy Cline with the muscular style Wray used to launch a generation of guitar copycats. It’s patently unfair to compare Goodman’s singing to Cline’s, of course, but the point is the juxtaposition. Rock this driving and vocals this plaintive shouldn’t fit together so well.

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An even better comparison for the vocals might be Hazel Dickens, the fearless, mountain-grown warbler who helped deliver coal mining union songs to the mainstream. Goodman’s singing has the same rare quality of being both languid and urgent.

Goodman, too, has been open about her leftist politics in Kentucky, and she’s even been known to cover “Which Side Are You On?” Lyrically, though, this album dwells less on activism than on relationships and a landscape filled with cottonmouths, “gas station delicacies” and cypress knees. Goodman draws deeply on her small-town western Kentucky upbringing near the banks of the Mississippi River, and none of it feels forced.

Her range shines on several elegant ballads, especially the achy “Tender Kind.” A daffodil pressed into a book; a trip to Memphis recalled — the writing is vivid and spirited, as it is throughout the album.

It’s yet another reason to hail Goodman’s arrival as an intriguing, original new voice.

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