“Rare Bird Alert” – Steve Martin with the Steep Canyon Rangers – a Review
Steve Martin is an actor,comedian,musician and has been a very well known entertainer in the American scene for at least thirty five years. He has been on his own TV shows, and starred in several movies.
This is his second recent banjo playing CD, he did another one similar to this a couple of years ago. That CD, won the Grammy for best Bluegrass Album in 09. Last year, Martin established the Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in banjo and bluegrass, an annual award to bring recognition to an individual or group for outstanding accomplishment in the field of banjo or bluegrass music. The first award was presented to Noam Pikelny. Martin must have a ton of energy as he also has time write books. He wrote all of the material on this album.
This album conveys a combination of good traditional bluegrass music with the help of the Steep Canyon Rangers, and also Paul McCartney and The Dixie Chicks. It is refreshing to hear the Chicks together again singing a bluegrass song reminding me of their CD “Home”, with the Martin written song “You”. I like this song the best on the album. Paul McCartney sings the vocals on “Best Love”. Bluegrass with a cello and a pop feel to it as McCartney sounds different here, I did not recognize his voice right way , had to look at Literature. Martin adds some of his humor to a few songs here, like on “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs”, a song that makes light of southern gospel singing,and he with his back up group even do some gospel type harmonies. I really don’t care for this track, but he says that he likes to perform it live, a staple of their shows.
He was fortunate in discovering his back up group(Steep Canyon Rangers) that tours and records with him, his wife had known them and introduced them to him. Their banjo player Graham Sharp compliments Martin’s clawhammer style with some Scruggs type pickin’. The album overall is done very well as it is recorded by Gary Paczosa and mastered by Doug Sax, two of the best at what they do in the music industry. It is well balanced and the sound is not overly bright, as some bluegrass can be. I must say that today’s bluegrass music is a booming business and the recordings for the most part are top notch.
“Northern Island” is an up tempo bluegrass jam, the banjos are in the front of most of the recordings, especially instrumentals. He does a bluegrass rendering of his comic King Tut.
In closing, you will find Steve Martin here in both his serious love for bluegrass music, and also Steve Martin; The Comic.