Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers Rare Bird Alert

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

Rare Bird Alert

Rounder Records

Steve Martin’s first foray into bluegrass, The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo, netted the comedian, writer and banjo picker a Grammy so it’s hard to imagine him topping that with his sophomore release, but this is absolutely a much better record in every way.

Teaming up with North Carolina’s Steep Canyon Rangers was an inspired move and this collaboration with of one of the finest bands in the genre today makes Rare Bird Alert a winner. The songwriting is lighthearted fare that continually brings a smile, from the fly-fishing song Yellow to a fast tune called Women Like to Slow Dance to Jubilation Day, which does the best job of blending Martin’s humor with a traditional bluegrass structure. There are guests: Paul McCartney takes a turn at the mike on Best Love and the Dixie Chicks warble sweetly on You, but the Rangers tie it all together over these thirteen tracks, the last two of which are live, and illustrate Martin’s ability to make people smile: the a cappella Atheists Don’t Have No Songs is my personal favorite but the hilarious, dead-on bluegrass take of Martin’s King Tut is a fitting end to this fine record, tying up loose ends nicely.

The Crow, with its many guest stars, was a fine, entertaining collection of bluegrass songs and Martin certainly knows his instrument, but with the solid underpinnings of the Steep Canyon Rangers, what we have here is a bluegrass record. And that makes all the difference in the world.

Curtis Lynch

Playgrounds Magazine

May 2011


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