Steve Goodman was dying when he recorded 1985's Santa Ana Winds, and he knew it. Goodman had been fighting a long battle with leukemia through most of his career, but his condition had grown worse in the early '80s and he was determined to make the most of what time he had left. It's anyone's guess just how much Goodman's imminent mortality informed his creative process while making Santa Ana Winds (his collaborators say he never brought it up), but the album was noticeably more downbeat than the two collections that preceded it (1983's Artistic Hair and 1984's Affordable Art). That's not to say Goodman's trademark wit was missing from the album; his homage to female bikers, "Queen of the Road," and the wary view of low-level decadence in "Hot Tub Refugee" both easily prompt a smile, and there's no hiding the joy in his voice as he sings a version of "The Big Rock Candy Mountain" that merges bluegrass and jazz. (And "Answering Machine Tape" is a more subdued but similarly pointed variation on a theme Paul Westerberg explored on the Replacements' "Answering Machine.") But Santa Ana Winds is closer to a country album than anything else Goodman would ever make, and the sad tales of "The Face on the Cutting Room Floor," "Fourteen Days," and "The One That Got Away" are the ones that carry the most weight. Goodman was somber when he recorded this music, but he wasn't at all sorrowful; his vocals are subtle but fully engaged, his band fills these songs with great picking and plenty of soul, and the final track, "You Better Get It While You Can (The Ballad of Carl Martin)," is a celebration of both life and music that reminds us how precious they truly are. Steve Goodman didn't live to see Santa Ana Winds released, but despite that it found him ending his recording career on a high note with an album of gentle strength that speaks from the heart.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming