Monday, February 9, 2009

Steve Martin's Latest Is Finger Pickin' Good

Steve Martin
The Crow: New Songs For
The Five-String Banjo
Five Scoops of Bosco

Reviewed by Allen Bacon, Editor, The Daily Bosco

For those of us who have followed the careeer of comedian/actor/ musician Steve Martin, it's hard to believe that it took him 45 years to record his first bluegrass album. That's because if you have been watching and listening closely, Martin uses the banjo for much more than a comic prop...he's a pretty accomplished musician.

This is all evident on his recent release The Crow: New Songs For the Five-String Banjo. Produced by good friend, high school classmate and former Nitty Gritty Dirt Band frontman John McEuen (a legendary banjo player himself), this album highlights fourteen songs for the banjo written by Martin over the years plus Clawhammer Medley (with Red Is the Rose, Sally Ann, Johnson Boys and others).

In his stand-up act, Martin often joked that "you can't play a sad song on the banjo." But in this album he contradicts that statement as his music covers a full range of emotions. As Martin writes in the liner notes, "I knew the banjo had a capacity for mournful melodies and the 'high, lonesome sound.' As I was sometimes mournful, sometimes lonesome and sometimes sad, this suited me perfectly."

This album is pure joy, especially for those of us who enjoy playing or have attempted to play bluegrass music. This takes me back to some happy memories jamming with my banjo playing friends.

The title track, first recorded for Tony Trischka's 2007 album, climbed the bluegrass charts to become Martin's second hit (after King Tut).

Vince Gill and Dolly Parton contribute their beautiful vocals on Pretty Flowers. Mary Black sings on Calico Train. Actor Eugene Levy plays guitar on Tin Roof, and Earl Scruggs appears on Daddy Played the Banjo.

Some of the songs on this album also show up Martins writing and story telling skills along with his sense of humor. A good example of this is his Late For School which he played last weekend on Saturday Night Live.

One thing that came to my mind when hearing this album is the time when another set of comediens (and Martin's friends)...Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi crossed over into the area of the blues. This is a totally different set of circumstances. Martin long ago has been accepted into the bluegrass community as a skilled banjo player and bluegrass performer even earning a grammy nomination on a collaborative album. Ackroyd and Belushi, on the other hand, while having a love for their genre of music, had to really develop their skills as bluesmen and were not at first totally accepted into the blues community.

On a side note, for a real treat, go to YouTube and see the video from the Late Show With David Letterman where Martin performs Foggy Mountain Breakdown with five other bluegrass greats including the legendary Earl Scruggs.

This album is currently available exclusively through for the next 90 days.

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