I've heard recently that Steve Martin is thinking about getting out of the whole music thing, maybe doing some comedy or acting or something like that... Anyway, he's a pretty darn good bluegrass banjo player, and has been known to plunk a tune or two over the years. Here's a quick look at his more musical work...
Steve Martin "The Steve Martin Brothers" (Warner Brothers, 1981/Wounded Bird, 2006)
A mix of comedy and bluegrass, with musical assist by some of the best in the biz: Martin's longtime pal, John McEuen, along with fiddler Vassar Clements and Junior Huskey on bass. Can't ask for a better band, although fans seem to think this wasn't his best comedy material. Oh well, we all have our bad years.
Steve Martin "The Crow: New Songs For The 5-String Banjo" (40 Productions, 2009)
(Produced by Steve Martin & John McEuen)
Dang! This is nice. I mean, yeah we all knew that Steve Martin could "really play" the banjo, but who knew that he was this damn good? This is a dazzling set of original compositions, mostly instrumentals, with the compositional strength, technical skill and just plain fun, bouncy abandon to make any bluegrass/newgrass fan jump for joy. Along for the ride are co-producer John McEuen, as well as banjo greats Earl Scruggs and Tony Trischka, and a slew of high-power vocalists, including Mary Black, Vince Gill and Dolly Parton -- Martin rambles his way through one vocal number, the comedic "Late For School," but the real razzle-dazzle here are the instrumental tunes, like "Tin Roof" (which evokes the late John Hartford), the stunning, inventive "Pitkin County Turnaround" and the winsome "Clawhammer Medley." Banjo music fans will definitely want to want to check this out -- Tony Trischka's presence is especially apt, since this recalls the originality and verve of his early solo work. Definitely recommended!
Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers "Rare Bird Alert" (Rounder, 2011)
(Produced by Tony Trischka)
A delightful album, with multimedia mastermind Steve Martin and the up-and-coming Steep Canyon Rangers band deepening their relationship, and perfecting a stage act not unlike that of Hot Rize, or even some of the more winsome folk/old-timey bands of the '60s. Most of the songs are novelty numbers, and Martin hits the mark every time -- none of the shallow, mean-spirited irony of modern times, just some good, old-fashioned funny stuff - he knows how to edit down, and there's not a wasted note on this album. There are also several inventive, whimsical instrumentals, including the lively title track and "Hide Behind A Rock." Of course, you'd think that Steve Martin, being Mr. Show-Biz, could round up some top talent for his guest stars, but instead we get near-unknowns such as The Dixie Chicks and Paul McCartney... Oh, well. Paul sings a sweet love song, "Best Love," while the Chicks harmonize on another heartfelt number, "You." The Steep Canyon boys have been favorites of mine for years, and this record is a real peak for them: one of the best collaborative efforts on here is the comedy number, "Atheists Don't Have No Songs," with lyrics by Martin and flawless bluegrass-gospel harmony arrangement from the band. Other highlights include "Go Away, Stop, Turn Around, Come Back" and its sister song, the breakup breakdown "Jubilation Day." Martin's last bluegrass record was a gas; this one's even better. Highly recommended!
Steve Martin & Edie Brickell "Love Has Come For You" (Rounder/40 Share, 2013)
I have been enjoying Steve Martin's recent concentration on his long love of bluegrass music, but I have to confess I wasn't really into this singer-songwriter-y alt-pop/mountain music mashup... Guess I'm just not a huge Edie Brickell fan, but for folks who are, I think this album will count as a gem. Stylistically, it's a cool mix of perspectives, and the integration of banjo and twang into the sleeker pop soundscape isn't at all gimmicky or forced. Worth checking out... It's just not my personal cup of tea. It also inspired me to add this Steve Martin page to my website... just because I can.
Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers & Edie Brickell "Live" (Rounder, 2014) (CD + DVD)
Steve Martin "Let's Get Small" (Warner Brothers, 1977)
Steve Martin "A Wild And Crazy Guy" (Warner Brothers, 1978)
Steve Martin "Comedy Is Not Pretty!" (Warner Brothers, 1979)
Hick Music Index