Record Of Loss (EP)

Joe Goodkin

Quell Records, 2017

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


This one starts with an apology. Joe Goodkin, I’m sorry it took me two years to review this EP. The simple fact that it stayed in the stack for that long, though, tells you something about the quality of the six songs found here. This one stuck with me.

The issue for me was that Record Of Loss—the second in a trilogy of EPs from singer-songwriter-guitarist Goodkin, sandwiched between Record Of Life and Record of Love—was also, at the time it reached me in early 2017, too close to home. At that point, my 89-year-old mother had been in seriously declining health for a year and had already spent two long stints in a rehabilitation facility after falls that required surgeries. I knew what was coming, and I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind then to listen closely and repeatedly to a collection of songs about loss and grief.

Mom’s been gone a year now, we’ve celebrated her in a variety of ways, and we recently handed the keys to her old house over to its new owner. And now I’m finally ready, and I’m glad I never gave up on this one, because Record Of Loss is a jaw-droppingly powerful set of songs—direct, wrenching, heartfelt, authentic.

Part and parcel of the impact of this EP is the fact that Goodkin is personally responsible for making every sound you hear on these tracks, using just his voice, hands, and a 1963 Gibson ES-125T electric guitar. Often he sings over plucked notes, sometimes layered with strummed rhythm guitar, sometimes also using sustain, feedback and other effects to give the tracks further texture. To call the resulting feel “intimate” would be a profound understatement; you hear every breath and tiny waver in Goodkin’s voice (take that, Autotune), every pluck of a string, every shift of his fingers along the fretboard. The naked honesty of the music only amplifies the emotion Goodkin invests in his vocals, with the vulnerable timbre of his voice and his idiosyncratic phrasing often reminding me of Semisonic’s Dan Wilson.

Opener “Nothing To Lose” slaps you hard across the face with the shock of loss, cataloging a buffeting sequence of departures—a beloved pet, his grandfather, his grandmother. As the narrative unfolds, both the music and Goodkin’s voice gain velocity, building from a calm sing-song to a keening wail as the losses mount up: “And by the time that I got home, you know / I found she’d disappeared and / I found she’d disappeared and / They all just disappeared and / We all just disappear...” While not every loss chronicled here is Goodkin’s personally—he acknowledges on his website that in many cases these songs are drawn from the experiences of friends and family—he invests himself completely in every line of every song. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Carpe diem” is the subtext of “Never Come Back,” which focuses on how suddenly people can disappear from your life. “My dad’s dad said goodnight to the kids / And went out to go to a party,” he sings, foreboding already present in his voice before the hammer drops. “A knock at the door / And tears all around / And forty years later, those tears / Oh they still hadn’t hit the ground… You never know when someone might walk out of your life and never come back.”

The sustained note that threads through “Charlie And Roger” at first sounds like an electrified oboe, even as it oscillates, providing a rich background for the strummed rhythm and plucked lead notes. The song itself celebrates the grace and kindness of a gay uncle’s partner who died when the narrator was still a child. “I was too young to understand / That loss is a wheel / That keeps turning and turning / Long after you heal.” Two minutes in, the sustained note becomes the solo line, modulating up and down and all around the strummed melody, a clever and deeply evocative effect.

“My friend Sarah is living her death / I guess all of us are, but most days we forget” is merely the opening line of “Sarah And Julie,” a brightly chiming tune about living to the fullest in the face of a terminal diagnosis. “And don’t say she lost, don’t say it when / Everyone loses the fight in the end / Say that she won for the way that she lived / Let us be judged by the love we give / Don’t say we’re gone, don’t say it when / We leave behind songs that outlive our end / Sing them until our voices goes to rust / Sing them until our days turn to dust.”

In “Eric And Gina,” the narrator’s future wife loses her brother to suicide, setting a time bomb that ultimately blows up their relationship. “And so a lifetime’s worth of plans / Became a year of paperwork / I couldn’t say the words ‘I love you’ / For several years after she left / Even if they were the truth / Well, they’d get caught up in my chest.” Here again a sustained note that modulates and feeds back provides the keening heart of the song over strummed rhythm notes.

“For The Loss” opens with a held note that feels more like a church organ at a funeral, introducing a song about an abortion and the scars it left. “I have been trying to sing this song for almost 15 years / I scattered pieces all around / In places far and near / But I’m no Ben Folds or Conor Oberst / I’m not even sure that it was mine / Which somehow makes it worse / I took her to the clinic and paid the money / I drove her home in tears / So she could get some sleep / Maybe it was the only thing / That made us give a go / At staying close for all those years / So we’d have something to show / For the loss, for the pain.”

The polar opposite of an easy listen, Record Of Loss is nonetheless a tremendous achievement, fearlessly documenting some of the most difficult moments humans ever face. Far from wallowing in the pain of loss and the cloud of grief that follows, Record Of Loss offers a path through it and out the other side, a trail blazed with raw honesty and a fierce belief in the resilience of the human spirit.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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