Steve Martin, Edie Brickell
Rounder Records is set to release a fantastic collaboration between long-time banjo player extraordinaire Steve Martin (yes, THAT Steve Martin for those of you who haven’t been paying attention) and singer/songwriter Edie Brickell, the result of a true partnership in songwriting.
Produced by the legendary Peter Asher, Love Has Come For You is a charming 13-song album that may just surpass the works put out by both musicians to date.
“This is the kind of music that I’ve always wanted to make, but I never knew how until now,” Brickell said. “I just fell in love with all of these songs because they all represent something that’s true.”
For both Martin and Brickell, this album was a departure from previous projects. Martin picked up the five-string banjo at the age of 17 and began learning both the clawhammer and Earl Scruggs style of playing. In the 1970’s, Martin’s stand-up comedy acts would wind up with a banjo tune or two in the set, but he never pursued the idea of writing a musical album with his own material. He won a Grammy in 2002 for his remake of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” and then in 2009 released The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo, which garnered him his second Grammy. His second album, Red Bird Alert, also was nominated for a Grammy in 2011. In the midst of his own recording, Martin teamed up with the North Carolinian-band the Steep Canyon Rangers, earning him Grammy awards, an extensive tour schedule, new fans, and a whole new artistic side of himself to experience and express.
Brickell, a lovely and talented songstress, earned her place at the table with a score of albums in her catalog, bursting onto the music scene in 1988 with her first album, Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars, with her band the New Bohemians. While performing on SNL that same year, she met her future husband, Paul Simon. The two maintained separate but successful musical careers.
Brickell and Martin met at a party and eventually discussed Edie adding her evocative lyrics to the Appalachian-inspired banjo melodies Martin was writing. However, the two lived on different sides of the country, so Martin began sending his riffs via email, and in return, Brickell would send her vocals back.
“Looking in my inbox and seeing an attachment from Edie was always like getting a Christmas present,” Martin recalls. “We really divided the creative work, so being off alone gave each of us freedom to work.”
This splendid gem of an album is mostly acoustic—some of the songs are just Martin and Brickell with a little help from a few special guests, such as members of the Steep Canyon Rangers and Sean & Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek. It’s more folk than bluegrass. The songs are based around character studies and narratives that Edie drew upon from her family’s history in rural Texas. The stories become central to the album’s tone, like on the lead-off track, “When You Get to Asheville,” which earned a live performance on Letterman in April. Brickell’s narrative presents an underlying sadness caused by loss, but offers up a ray of hope & forgiveness: “If it don’t work out/You can turn around/And come on back to me/You can come on home to me.”
Martin’s banjo melodies lead the way into each song, setting the mood but at times offering a dichotomy to songs like the title track. The song is based on a scandalous tale and the melodic banjo runs are uplifting despite being pitted against the tragedy found within Brickell’s lyrics. Songs like “Get Along Stray Dog” and “Sun’s Gonna Shine” are rousing numbers that make for great toe-tapping sing-a-longs, while “Yes She Did” and “Remember Me This Way” are reflective but stirring tunes that highlight Brickell’s vivid imagery and Martin’s ability to allow the banjo to take a seemingly natural place within the song’s context.
Love Has Come For You sounds like it comes from the heart of the Appalachians where banjo music remains a permanent fixture and influence in our culture. Martin and Brickell have created an album that exceeded all expectations, yet with an abundance of talent, the duo have found a way to make it sound effortless and pleasantly accessible. As the banjo continues to transcend into the sounds of modern popular music, it remains a true joy to listen to on this refreshing new album from two creative forces.
Q&A with Steve Martin
SML: Love Has Come For You is a departure from the two albums you’ve recorded with The Steep Canyon Rangers, more folk than bluegrass. Was this a self-imposed challenge?
Steve Martin: Not at all. The CD turned out this way only because it turned out this way.
Edie’s voice and your banjo playing become quite endearing throughout the album. How did the two of you meet and decide to work on this project?
We met at a party and just started chatting. One thing led to another, and I mentioned that I had some melodies lying around, and she said she’d love to write some lyrics to them. So we met and started working.
Working with digital files—sending emails back and forth—is certainly a modern method for composing music. Did this cause any lack of spontaneity when writing the album?
We really divided the creative work, so being off alone gave each of us freedom to work. I liked trying to surprise Edie with melodies that might inspire her.
Brevard, N.C., is home-away-from-home for you. Did you point Edie in that direction when writing “When You Get to Asheville”?
She came up with that with no direction from me.
When you’re working on certain melodies or songs, do you get a sense of placement for the banjo within the final piece of music?
Edie always left room for the banjo to express itself. She surprised me with her lyrical phrasing, leaving gaps for the banjo’s melodic riffs.
Bluegrass is alive and well in Western North Carolina. Do you draw any inspiration from the Blue Ridge Mountains when composing?
I have always been inspired by traditional music that has originated in North Carolina, and beyond.