An actor/comedian decides to spend the last ten years of his career plucking banjo strings as part of an acoustic bluegrass band. There are albums – three with this band, one with former New Bohemian Edie Brickel. All of them were great – showcasing Martin as an leading light when it comes to banjo, as well as a fine songwriter/lyricist who can alternate between the sharply witty (‘Atheists Don’t Have No Songs’) and the profoundly heartfelt (‘You’).
But with this new record, the amusingly titled The Long-Awaited Album, we find Martin giving his fans what they’re yearning for – in that I consider myself a fan of his better films (Roxanne) his plays (Einstein & Picasso at the Lapin Agile) and novels (An Object of Beauty) as well as his music (Rare Bird Alert is superb). He has in this chapter of his career, in this nook in the saturated music world, found a way to perfectly balance the ludicrous and the introspective.
The Long-Awaited Album works as something of a grab bag, a variety show of sorts, which is entirely fitting given that it’s an album mixing comedy, pathos and instrumentals. Three of the tracks – the more comedic ‘Nights in the Lab’, ‘Strangest Christmas Ever’ and album standout ‘Caroline’ have Martin himself handling the vocals (he’s a singer in as much as he does not sing out of tune); there are a further six songs where the vocals are handled by Woody Platt of the Steep Canyon Rangers, when the songs call for a more melodious vocal interpretation. Missing from this record are guest vocals from the likes of Paul McCartney, and the Dixie Chicks, who added a different speckle of variety to Rare Bird Alert. The album’s strengths include the fact that it’s not a comedy/novelty album, nor is it an instrumental piece or just straight bluegrass. The best of all worlds, here.
It’s hard to say what depth there is in the music-loving public for an album of this mettle – personally I don’t discriminate when it comes to genre; a good song is a good song. Quality recordings don’t exist solely in the domain of pop, rock, or country. You can’t discount rap, classical or electronica on the whole, as there’s going to be gold in them thar hills, you just need to know how deep to dig. Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers are masters at their craft, and The Long-Awaited Album is a rare gem indeed.