I admit, it was the video of “Caroline” that drew me to The Long-Awaited Album by Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers. It has that Martin-esque blend of specifically unique humor and woebegone-rejected boyfriend in a presentation of musical exceptionalism. The melody is hummable without being predictable and of course the instrumentation is bluegrass and folk – not overproduced digital muck.
Go ahead, watch the YouTube video of “Caroline.”
The Long-Awaited Album is performed by Steve Martin (banjo, vocals) and the Steep Canyon Rangers (Woody Platt, Mike Guggino, Nicky Sanders, Mike Ashworth, Graham Sharp, Charles Humphrey III). Produced by Peter Asher.
Contents: Santa Fe (3:12) — Caroline (3:22) — All night long (3:44) — Canadian girl (3:10) — Office supplies (2:00) — Bad night (4:04) — Strangest Christmas yet (3:40) — Always will (1:27) — So familiar (2:59) — Nights in the lab (2:46) — Angeline the barista (1:46) — On the water (2:35) — Girl from river run (3:21) — Promontory point (1:07).
From the liner notes by Steve Martin: “A few years ago, I was speaking with my agent about strategies for getting the word out about a new record. As a warning, he said, “Remember Steve, you’re selling something no one wants.” He meant CDs, but I also heard it as “music from a seventy-year-old comedian.”
Be sure, The Long-Awaited Album is serious music and not solely a vehicle for our beloved ‘wild and crazy guy.’ Martin has gone from comedian to actor and now to musician with the bona fides to show for it. Martin has won Grammy Awards for Best Bluegrass album The Crow New Songs for the Five-String Banjo, Best Americana album, Love Has Come for You with Edie Brikell, and received Grammy nominations for Best Bluegrass album Rare Bird Alert. In addition, he and Brikell earned a Grammy and a Tony nomination for the musical, Bright Star and won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music. And it’s not just Hollywood and NYC that recognize Martin’s mad banjo skills: he was the 2011 International Bluegrass Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year.
Music reviewer Sarah Belclaire for folkradio.com wrote:
“Steve Martin and crew carry on the rich legacy of bluegrass pioneers like Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and Bill Monroe. With no lack of musicianship, the band could take this genre in any direction they like, yet remain adeptly in tune with the intentions and expectations of the bluegrass style. From furious flatpicking to glistening mandolin licks, The Long-Awaited Album heralds every instrumental archetype that a purist could hope for.
It also presents many of the lyrical themes synonymous with that “high and lonesome” song form. Heartbreak, loneliness, and regret all rear their heads herein. But with Martin at the helm, TThe Long-Awaited Album is also unmistakably optimistic. Song titles lend themselves to an expectation of whimsy. Names like “Nights in the Lab“ and “Strangest Christmas Yet“ practically demand laughter.”
Bluegrass is a vehicle for instrumentalists with extraordinary skill as well as an outlet for experimentation with form and lyrics. You won’t be disappointed even if you’re not already a fan.
Happy Listening, Susan C.
Also by Martin:
Bright Star – Original Broadway Cast Album – Steve Martin and Edie Brickell present the the soundtrack to the original Broadway musical that tells a sweeping tale of love and redemption set against the rich backdrop of the American South in the 1920s and 1940s. Written by Martin and Brickell, and directed by Tony Award-winner Walter Bobbie, Bright Star’s simple story of love and redemption is a familiar one, and that familiarity provides fertile ground for Martin and Brickell’s bucolic and agreeable melodies. Strong performances from Carmen Cusack, Paul Alexander Nolan, and Hannah Elless, the latter of whom delivers a show-stopping rendition of “Love Has Come for You” highlight “Asheville,” help to elevate some of the narrative’s more predictable beats. Musically, Brickell and Martin explore every facet of the country-folk genre, delivering boot-stomping hoedowns (“Whoa Mama,” “Bright Star”), wistful folk-pop (“What Could Be Better”), bluesy torch songs (“So Familiar”), and even a little big-band-kissed country swing (“Another Round”). ~ James Christopher Monger
Rare Bird Alert – is a full-fledged country/bluegrass album consisting entirely of Martin originals and recorded in collaboration with the Steep Canyon Rangers. Some of the songs are comedic: the hilarious faux-gospel harmony number “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” is an album highlight despite its lack of an interesting melody, and “Women Like to Slow Dance” is both a wry reflection on gender differences and a straight-up bluegrass barnburner. “Jubilation Day” is one of the funnier kiss-off songs ever recorded (“Let’s always remember the good times/Like when you were out of town”), and there’s even a surprisingly straight version of Martin’s breakout novelty hit from the 1970s, “King Tut.” But other tracks are sweet and tender. This is a solidly enjoyable album. ~ Rick Anderson
Live Performed by Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers with Edie Brickell. Martin’s 21st century albums have proved he’s no dilettante. Brickell brings a strong set of pipes, some fine lyrics, and a warm stage presence to this show, and given her wildly uneven body of work since scoring a hit in 1988 with “What I Am,” her work with Martin ranks with the best music she’s made since her debut. The Steep Canyon Rangers are in superb form here, filling out the tunes with expert playing and richly imaginative arrangements. For the most part, Martin is content to play the banjo in this concert, and if he’s something short of a virtuoso, he’s certainly talented and possesses a strong melodic sense, which he displays on original compositions like “Daddy Played the Banjo” and “The Crow.” ~ Mark Deming
Love Has Come for You – Steve Martin & Edie Brickell. For the record, Martin can play the banjo, and better yet, he composes on it, and his gentle, lilting, and chiming banjo lines have easy, natural melodies embedded in them. On this album for Rounder Records, Brickell’s lyrics bring those gracefully easy melodies to life, stretching them into likewise graceful songs with a sparse, whimsical, and artfully open-aired narrative style. This is a true collaboration. This is a sweet-sounding album with subtle depths, not really bluegrass, but a precisely gentle folk album that grows more graceful and revealing with each listen. ~ Steve Leggett
The Crow New Songs for the Five-String Banjo is a banjo album, spotlighting Martin originals on the instrument (of the 16 tracks, all but one are his own compositions). This is no vanity project. Tracks like the stirring and revealing “Daddy Played the Banjo,” the blisteringly kinetic “Hoedown at Alice’s,” and the expansive, even beautifully ornate “Calico Train” not only wouldn’t seem out of place on any progressive bluegrass album, they’d probably be the best cuts on it. Martin has a lot of help, yes, from the likes of Mary Black, Vince Gill, Tim O’Brien, Dolly Parton, Earl Scruggs, Tony Trischka, and Pete Wernick, and the album is lovingly produced by John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, but make no mistake, this is completely Martin’s album and it’s his vision all the way. Everyone knows that Martin can be very funny, but The Crow isn’t a joke. It’s a first-class banjo album. ~ Steve L.eggett.