Gooding: Life Itself (S3)

A variety of influences are at play here: Latin, worldbeat, country-western, soul.

Picked up one of those free CDs in the Loop a couple months ago. It was a five-song demo by a one-named artist, promoting a spring show at Cicero’s. The artwork—a postcard replica of the CD cover, tucked inside a plain CD sleeve—was good: a photo of the artist in the bottom right, cut off the page, alone at a diner table, with the effect of someone having tried to scratch his head from the photo. It took me a few weeks, but I finally popped the sampler into my player and ended up listening to it on “repeat” nearly all day.

Since then, I’ve learned a thing or two about Gooding. He’s one of those do-it-all artists: lyrics and music, guitars, bass, and vocals by Gooding. He started his own label, S3 Records, on which not only his own work appears but a handful of other artists, as well. He’s based in Wichita, but this year, boasting an exhaustive touring schedule, is hardly ever there.

On the whole, Life Itself is a very soothing and uplifting disc. A variety of influences are at play here: Latin, worldbeat, country-western, soul. Four instrumental tracks insinuate themselves into your subconscious and leave you humming. The album’s second track, “And So It Goes,” is a radio-friendly singalong which reminds me of Wes Cunningham (who, ironically, had a song called “So It Goes” in 1999). The title track sounds like a Spanish love song, with its purposeful fretwork and easy melody.

By far the most spellbinding song, “First Day of School,” is a beautiful ballad with tenderly strummed guitars, and Gooding’s lilting description of himself as “the kid the other kids don’t get.” “Falling Down Again” has a good groove and again remarkably clear guitar with an almost flamenco jazz bent. “Lullaby Three,” also instrumental, could be the soundtrack to some cowboy flick, so vividly does it evoke the rattlesnakes, swirling dust, and spurs of the Wild West. “Slow Burn” is another dose of funk, as the electric guitar coaxes rhythm and movement from the listener.

There’s something to be said about music that can’t be categorized: it’s both frustrating and intriguing. But, in the case of Gooding and Life Itself, it works.

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