He may be known best as a "wild and crazy guy," but Steve Martin is the master of more than one craft. In addition to his work as a comedian and actor, Martin is a writer, playwright, and as Rare Bird Alert, his new album with The Steep Canyon Rangers proves, an awesome bluegrass musician.
Martin's banjo-picking and songwriting dominates the album, though his backing band more than holds its weight, as do Paul McCartney and The Dixie Chicks, who show up to contribute vocal turns.
Rare Bird Alert represents a rare turn in which an actor's music doesn't come across as a vanity project or some kill-time between summer blockbusters.
Martin's grasp of the bluegrass genre is expansive: "Women Like to Slow Dance" reels and rocks, "Atheists Don't Have No Songs" is beautiful and hilarious, and Martin even takes on "King Tut," his '78 novelty hit recorded originally with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, recasting the song as a dusty gem as Martin famously sings "born in Arizona, moved to Babylonia."
It's easy to think of artists who have biffed it when attempting to make a go music, but I thought it might be interesting to reflect on some musicians who have done a good job making the transition. Reflect on these rare few as you get ready to catch Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers on Friday, August 19, at Mesa Arts Center.
Vincent Gallo, "Yes I'm Lonely"
Controversial director/actor Vincent Gallo has a lot of musical ties, performing punk and rap in the '80s, working with Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono, Jim O'Rourke, and playing in his band RRIICCEE. "Yes I'm Lonely" comes from his collection of film scores. Whether or not he's going to make a batshit declaration that no one can listen to his music like he recently did with his films remains to be seen.
Bill Cosby (Badfoot Brown), "Martin's Funeral"
Mr. Cosby has done plenty of musical things, but nothing is as far out and fantastic as his '71 jazz-fusion record Badfoot Brown & the Bunions Bradford Funeral Marching Band. I mean, Tribe Called Quest sampled "Martin's Funeral," so you know it's good.
She & Him, "In the Sun"
I wanted to leave Zooey Deschanel off the list because she's become the go-to example when bringing up "actor gone recording artist" success stories. But I guess that's precisely why She & Him, her folky soul-pop duo with M.Ward needs to be included. Plus, this video is pretty rad.
Jeff Bridges, "What a Little Bit of Love Can Do"
"The Dude's" forthcoming solo joint isn't all good --"Falling Short" does that, and more-- but "What a Little Bit of Love Can Do" is just perfect country-pop from "El Duderino," whose voice is warm and worn in on this track.
Yep. The wheelchair kid from Degrassi managed to make a move into the world of legitimate rap-superstardom. The Fresh Prince mixed movies, TV, and rap, too, but thus far Drake hasn't tiptoed into "Wild Wild West" territory.
Woody Allen & Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band
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You can stream Wild Man Blues, the 1997 documentary that features Woody Allen touring Europe with his New Orleans Jazz Band on Netflix Instant Watch. The man's soundtracks are always filled with fantastic jazz, and his own clarinet playing demonstrates that he's a true student of the art form.
Catch Steve Martin, who most certainly won't be covering Vincent Gallo or Drake, Friday, August 19, at Mesa Arts Center.