Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers Featuring Edie Brickell Live is the Pick of the Week

New Music Tuesday - March 11, 2014
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The middle aged, country living, white guy in me must admit that I may be out of my depth this week.  There are lots of new releases coming out, but very few of them interesting to me.  The artists have names like Elbow, Sara Evans, kxm, and Aloe Blacc.  I know nothing about these artists from what genre they are in to how long they've been recording to how popular they are and certainly have no idea if they are any good.  So if you are young, or hip and came here looking to see what new music is out this week my suit your needs.  Prepare to be disappointed.  Sorry kids, that's just the way it is.  This week at least.

Here's whats coming out that does interest me.

Steve Martin's career is a fascinating ride.  He started as an absurdist comedian quickly becoming a very popular stand-up act.  By the late 70s he was so popular he was selling out stadiums like a rock star.  I've read he retired his act when he realized his popularity had overcome the jokes.  With thousands of people filling stadium primed to go crazy they would laugh hysterically at anything he did without caring about the quality of the jokes.

Whatever the reason he moved on to Hollywood and started making crazy slap-stick movies like The Man with Two Brains, The Jerk and the Three Amigos.  Eventually he moved into more mature, sophisticated fare like The Spanish Prisoner, Grand Canyon and Shop Girl.  Around this same time he began writing plays, short stories and regular pieces for the New Yorker.

Lately he has become something of a bluegrass superstar.  He's played banjo for decades and incorporated it into his stand-up act in the seventies (and made a hit song out of "King Tut.")  In 2001 he started making music seriously having now recorded three bluegrass albums all of which have hit number one on the US Bluegrass charts and done reasonably well on the pop charts.  His most recent album, Love Has Come For You featured Edie Brickell  on vocals.  

Brickell had a couple of hits in the late 80s with the New Bohemians (very much not a bluegrass outfit) married Paul Simon and seemingly disappeared from pop music.  Her return is as surprising as it is lovely.

The two of them (along with the Steep Canyon Rangers - Martin's regular band) toured across the country with the album and recorded this live album for a PBS Great Performances special and now its out on CD and DVD.  I've caught bits of it on TV and its quite marvelous.  Martin is a terrific musician.  He's not another big time Hollywood actor using his fame and money to pretend to be a rock god.  He's really got the chops.  His songwriting is good with his literary and comedic skills coming out in full force.  With decades of performances under his belt he's a natural performer.  Brickell's vocals add a lovely feminine presence to the proceedings and her lyrics fit right in with the rest of the songs.

With Steve Martin you never know what he's going to do next.  Whether this bluegrass playing is just another blip in a long, storied career (hey look!  the funny guy is playing banjo!) or whether he remains a bluegrass player the rest of his days its great to have this show as a testament to the genius of Steve Martin.

Also out this week that looks interesting:

Live in Japan - Chicago:  Recorded in Japan in June of 1972 this two-disc live set was initially only available in Japan an then on a limited scale in the mid-1990s.  Its been out of print for more than a decade and now for the first time is being made available to fans worldwide.  I'm not a huge fan, but I totally support reissuing live albums.