CD Review – Steve Martin and Edie Brickell “Love Has Come For You”
I have to confess that I’ve been absolutely side swiped by ‘Love Has Come For You.’ I guess that’s what happens sometimes when your expectations are low. I also have to confess that I’ve never been a fan of Steve Martin’s films. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I just don’t find him that funny. On top of that, it’s tempting to write off artists who jump genres and dismiss them as dilettantes. Saying that, I realize that Mr. Martin began his career as a musician and developed his comedy routines while engaging the audience in between song banter while opening for bands like The Grateful Dead. As far as Edie Brickell goes, I’ve been similarly underwhelmed by most of her music – other than a few improvisations with Jerry Garcia and her original radio hit ‘What I am’, I was never really grabbed by what she’s had on offer. So, when ‘Love Has Come For You’ arrived in the mail, I was ready to dismiss the whole affair even before I’d given it a proper listen. Since I first dropped it into the car stereo a week ago, I’ve been reluctant to play anything else.
‘Love Has Come For You’ is a bluegrass record and as anyone reading this knows, bluegrass is a hard path to follow in this day and age. Like the blues, it’s been weighed down with musical and lyrical clichés that are almost impossible to crawl away from. Many artists have tackled the genre by taking an ironic approach; others have been so reverential and curatorial that they’ve successfully drained all blood and passion from the music. A great measure of the success of Martin and Brickell’s record is that they do neither, and yet ‘Love Has Come For You’ still comes off as pure bluegrass music that honours tradition while sounding relevant and true at the same time.
Brickell’s lyrics shamelessly mine the linguistic and thematic well of the bluegrass lexicon: the songs are full of rivers, death, poverty, unwed mothers and their no good men, but she does it with such lightness and grace that the situations come off as new and authentic. Sure, she modernizes things a bit with lines like ‘When you get to Asheville, Send me an email’, but it is so natural and unselfconscious that lines like that don’t stop us in our tracks, they invite us to keep listening. All of the lyrics are like that. They’re understated, serious, and move forward without a trace of irony. That’s not to say that this is a humorless set of tunes. Songs like ‘Siamese Cat’ have lyrics that are hilarious and light, but never trivial or bland.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me was how wonderfully inventive and pure Steve Martin’s melodies are on this record. He isn’t an extremely technical player, but he is a surprisingly intuitive one. There isn’t any showboating or – conversely – relying on seasoned session banjo players to fill in gaps in Martin’s technique. Instead, there are thirteen beautifully crafted musical soundscapes that are engaging and uplifting from beginning to end. Songs like ‘When You Get To Asheville’ and the title track are top notch tunes that would shine on anyone’s record. This isn’t music that in any way trades in on celebrity. If anything, fame and reputation are downplayed as Martin and Brickell come off as two people that simply love singing and playing music. Of course, having players like Peter Asher on percussion and the Webb Sisters (of Leonard Cohen’s touring group) featured as backup vocalists doesn’t hurt things a bit.
This posting also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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