With a wink and a nod, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers let us know that they know just how much we’ve been missing them and how much we’ve been waiting for their new album by calling their latest effort The Long-Awaited Album. Thankfully, after 2011’s Rare Bird Alert, they had felt us clamoring for more of Martin’s rolling licks, his tongue-in-cheek songs about love and loss, and the downright funky and danceable music of the Steep Canyon Rangers, and they’ve satisfied our longings with a collection of rousing, hilarious songs, punctuated by poignant, lilting instrumentals.
Martin’s banjo scampers alongside and bobs in and around Graham Sharp’s banjo as Nicky Sanders’ fiddle and Woody Platt’s guitar propels the scurrying, foot-stomping instrumental “Angeline the Barista.” As bright as the tune starts off, it turns dark with minor chords in the bridge, casting a brief shadow on the light-heartedness of its joyfulness. Another instrumental, “Promontory Point,” which Martin co-wrote with Tony Trischka, builds quickly into a tune from a front porch in the mountains or hollers where the musicians have gathered to sit a spell and pick a tune. On the straight-ahead, almost dirge-like, “Nights in the Lab,” Martin’s deadpan, tongue-in-cheek lyrics tell a tale of two scientists whose yearning for each other builds as the song develops. During one late-night conversation: “I relay a little joke/About the arctic antelope/You smile a bit and clear your throat/And compliment my anecdote.” Their love is finally consummated when the two “analyze a spirochete” and “accidentally” their lips meet.
The bright vocals of Woody Platt and Mike Guggino and sprightly music of “The Girl from River Run,” deliver a tale of longing, unexpected love and home. Martin introduces several familiar characters — the rich boy, the athlete, and fraternity brother — in this “you-never-know-what-you’re-missing-until-you-find-it-far-from-home” story. In “Caroline,” what may be the funniest breakup song ever, Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers wrap joyous banjo rolls and fiddle runs around the lyrics that relay the singer’s hurt and confusion: “Can you tell me why you left me standing in the parking structure/Caroline, I was the almost-perfect boyfriend ever for you/And you even said that to me one time at the Olive Garden.” The rousing chorus, almost a march, helps him realize his mistake in loving Caroline, and he’s ready to move on: “Yes I know that we could not have lasted/ Daily life cannot be that intense/ I’ll phone my friends and try to explain/ Why this past year I have acted so insane.”
Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers carry us through every facet of bluegrass on this album, but they also throw in a little operatic choral work (“Strangest Christmas Yet”) to keep us on our toes and to lead us in merriment. Have as much fun listening to this album as they clearly did in recording it.