O brother, where art thou, you wild and crazy guy? In his early, high days as a warped stand-up comedian, Steve Martin would use the banjo in his act, mostly as contrivance to establish his uniqueness. He’s since put away his trademark white suit, but kept the pluckable instrument, which he now employs in a more professional manner. (Both his bluegrass albums, 2009’s The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo and 2011’s Rare Bird Alert, were recognized by Grammy.)
Those two albums were spirited affairs, with his fingers being well exercised. On his latest trip to foggy mountain, Martin is accompanied by Edie Brickell, fondly remembered by some for her fresh-faced ’80s act, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians. This new collaboration with Martin is unexpected; let’s call them Edie Brickell & Old Comedian.
On the pretty, moon-lit album Love Has Come For You, Martin is not the featured attraction. His banjo trickles and tickles, but never attempts to fly, and his old arrow-through-the-head prop is kept in the trunk in the attic. His playing supports the words and melodies of Brickell, whose highly agreeable voice lies somewhere between the velvet purr of Norah Jones and the spring-fed tone of Alison Krauss. The songs paint gentle and comforting rural scenes.
Brickell is long married to Paul Simon, but she knew how to rhyme before they met. Her notable hit was 1988’s What I Am. In 2013, what she is is a mother of three children, and is thus qualified to present the album’s maternal themes. Remember on her old single that Brickell blithely sang that she wasn’t aware of too many things, but that she knew what she knew, if you know what she means. “Choke me in the shallow waters,” the chorus went, “before I get too deep.”
So things here are simple enough, but elegantly and touchingly so. When You Get to Asheville is a missive sent to a nest-departing son or daughter. The title track has a more Celtic feel, though the chorus is soft and sweet. It’s about a son born out of wedlock – a gift heaven sent, a mother comes to believe. Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby is folkier, pluckier and in the field of Loretta Lynn. A baby in a suitcase was thrown from a train and then retrieved – “You’re my baby now,” our Sarah Jane asserts.
The album’s least forgettable moment is Friend of Mine, a stringed soother. “The world is such a crazy place, full of love and pain,” Brickell sings, breathy and with a touch of drawl. “What would I do without you, here to keep me sane.” A friend is invaluable for lifting spirits and offering sympathy. One plus one equals three, Steve and Edie would likely agree.
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