Consolations And Desolations

Joe Goodkin

Quell Records, 2023

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Of all the interesting resumes that I’ve encountered on the interwebs, Joe Goodkin’s is the only one that includes album-length musical interpretations of both The Odyssey and The Iliad. Goodkin has performed his 35-minute, 24-song voice-and-guitar “folk opera” encapsulating Homer’s Odyssey hundreds of times over the past decade for college and high school audiences across the US, Canada and Europe, more recently adding The Blues Of Achilles—his interpretation of The Iliad—to his live performance rotation.

Goodkin’s new album Consolations And Desolations has nothing to do with the above paragraph, and also everything. The very same themes and elements that make Homer’s tales classics—ambition, exploration, longing, conflict, peril, loneliness and determination—all show up here in one way or another. Goodkin’s interest is in examining the human experience and reflecting on what matters most in life.

In addition to recording and performing his Homerian song cycles, Goodkin has fronted the indie rock band Paper Arrows, started his own indie label (Quell Records) and issued a number of solo releases, including his twenty-teens EP series Record Of Love / Record Of Loss / Record Of Life, and his cleverly named 2019 solo record Paper Arrows.

Interestingly, it was Goodkin’s work fronting his former band Paper Arrows that originally caught the attention of Grammy-nominated producer and ex-Wilco and Uncle Tupelo drummer Ken Coomer, but it took the pair a decade to get together and make this album. Holing up in Coomer’s Nashville studio during the late-2022 COVID wave, the duo constituted the core band, supported by remote contributions from bassist Dave Jacques (John Prine), keyboardist Al Gamble (St. Paul & The Broken Bones), pedal steel player Adam Ollendorf (Kacey Musgraves, Will Hoge) and background vocalist Maureen Murphy (Zac Brown Band).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Consolations And Desolations succeeds in part because Coomer has recognized and respected what made Goodkin’s previous solo releases so distinctive: they’re incredibly naturalistic. Those records all feel like you’re in the room with Joe; you hear every little quaver in his voice and every move of his fingers up and down the frets. The music on this full-band album is more arranged-and-produced, of course, but the instruments only complement and never distract from the voice at the center. Goodkin’s vocals are as pure and unaffected as ever, emotion and intention bleeding through every line.

Album opener and lead single “Love Is A Stupid Word” offers both strong hooks and rhetorical sleight-of-hand as this steady-rocking tune unspools the anxiety-ridden narrator’s fear of abandonment. I’ve long maintained that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s fear, and Goodkin appears to agree as his character frets and flails before finally coming to understand that putting his full faith in love is the only way forward. (The song is also quite classical in structure—classic rock, that is.)

Next up, the title track offers a gentle, jangly nod to Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” as Goodkin delivers a road song of the heart (“All my life I’ve looked for love”) in which our narrator reconsiders whether success is sometimes failure, and vice versa. In “Stay” the narrator is again pleading for a partner with one foot out the door to stick around, even if it’s only to comfort him; Murphy’s very complementary harmony vocals seal the deal.

Country-folk is the vibe for the meditative “Endless Fall,” which considers how the changing of the seasons influences people’s outlook and mood, recommending that we lean into whatever feelings they might bring out in us. “More Than Our Mistakes” is where I was reminded how much the timbre and tone of Goodkin’s heartfelt vocals sometimes resemble Dan Wilson of Semisonic, a compliment indeed. “Anyone can let forgiveness in,” he sings, “Just open up your heart until it breaks / Anyone can let forgiveness win / Remember that we’re more than our mistakes.” Oof and amen.

Easing into the home stretch, steady-on acoustic number “Someone Else” explores how one of the things lovers sometimes do is rescue one another. In a similarly thoughtful vein, the rather hymnlike “From Where We Came” examines how we grow and change over time while some essential core of our identity remains constant. Finally, closer “Enter Hope” delivers an intense, mythic meditation on the weight of grief and how we learn to carry it onward.

As the above descriptions should make clear, this music can feel rather solemn; there aren’t a lot of punchlines or clever asides. What shines through again and again is the warmth of Goodkin’s intentions, the belief he invests in the power of his art to heal both audience and performer. Consolations And Desolations charts an odyssey of the mind more than body, but once again, the journey serves to underscore what truly matters and what can be left behind.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2023 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Quell Records, and is used for informational purposes only.