The first line of the first song on bluegrass album Love Has Come For You gives us a clue as to who is behind it: “When you get to Asheville / Send me an email.”
Yup. It’s Steve Martin. The comedian/Renaissance man has put out another fantastic bluegrass album, this time pairing up with singer-songwriter Edie Brickell (aka Mrs. Paul Simon). It’s an unlikely collaboration, to be sure—but it works surprisingly well.
Don’t let the lyric quote above fool you: this isn’t comedy. In fact, the lyric isn’t even Steve Martin’s (Brickell is responsible for that lyric, along with much of the other lyric content on the album.) Rather, for the last several years, it seems Martin has been on a quest to modernize the bluegrass genre, to make it relevant for today. As it happens, Brickell seems to fall right in step with that direction, primarily by writing and singing contemporary lyrics that are aren’t trying to be bluegrass, but seem to fit perfectly with Martin’s 5-string banjo.
Speaking of the banjo, Steve Martin’s work here is stellar, as good as anything else he’s done musically. Masterfully produced by Peter Asher, Love Has Come For You tastefully keeps the banjo in the foreground, functioning almost as a duet with Brickell, with sparse but equally tasteful background instruments, including an unobtrusive string section and none other than Esperanza Spaulding on string bass.
The true beauty of this record is that while it falls within the bluegrass/country category, it doesn’t sound like it’s trying too hard to be a bluegrass album. Edie Brickell, after all, is an indie-rock vocalist, best known before now as a one-hit wonder for the song “What I Am” with the New Bohemians. Yet while Brickell draws a bit from her Texas roots to provide the occasional drawl, there is no attempt to mimic the traditional bluegrass vocal inflections. She sounds like Edie Brickell singing modern lyrics in her own vocal style over traditional Americana arrangements—and remarkably, it sounds like these sounds have always belonged together. Trust me, it’s far better to listen to it than to describe it.
I have to admit, I’ve always been impressed by Steve Martin’s transition from acting/comedy into music, mainly because it has turned out not to be some sort of gimmick or attention-grabber—Martin is truly talented as a musician. So I came to this record with a pretty high set of expectations, and Love Has Come For You has exceeded them all. It’s a whole different vibe from Steep Canyon Rangers, as Edie Brickell brings a completely new twist to the table. Whether we’ll see future collaborations between Martin and Brickell remains to be seen; but if this is the only one, it completely works for me. This record will be on my play list for some time to come.