Steve Martin

Steve Martin The CrowTHE CROW: NEW SONGS FOR THE 5 STRING BANJO

Rounder Records
11661-0647-2

Every time I hear of an actor deciding to explore his or her music muse, my expectations for the finished product aren’t high because of past examples from several bodies of dusty work on the shelves. This isn’t the case with actor/comedian Steve Martin. For one, he has the credibility of being one of the chosen few to play with his idol Earl Scruggs on a latter day celebrity packed recording of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” He also wrote and picked on Tony Trischka’s Grammy nominated and 2007 IBMA Instrumental Album Of The Year, “Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular.” Before I even inserted the CD, I read through the wonderfully detailed 24page liner notes detailing the inspiration for each of the album’s songs (an excellent addition to the project) and learned from Steve’s own words the great degree of respect he has for the banjo: “I can’t imagine the vacancy I would have had in my life without this peculiar instrument running through it.”
With his childhood friend, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member John McEuen at the control knobs, Martin brought in a who’s who list of musicians from a variety of genres to flesh out his creative endeavors with his fivestring wizardry. On his first fulllength bluegrass album, this “wild and crazy guy” enlisted Vince Gill and Dolly Parton (“Pretty Flowers”), Mary Black (“Calico Train”), and Tim O’Brien (“Daddy Played The Banjo”), along with banjo legend Earl Scruggs, and banjo masters Trischka, McEuen, and Pete Wernick. This comic’s talent shows a serious exploration of his love for the fivestring on a CD he jokingly refers to as “the most expensive banjo album in the history of the universe and that includes possible alternative universes, too.” (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.)BC

Audie Blaylock and Redline

Audie Blaylock and RedlineAUDIE BLAYLOCK AND REDLINE

Rural Rhythm
RHR 1042

Audie Blaylock has ranked among the most respected sidemen in bluegrass for more than twenty years, having worked with Jimmy Martin, Rhonda Vincent, Lynn Morris, and Michael Cleveland, to name a few. It should come as no surprise then that Audie Blaylock and Redline delivers fairly traditional bluegrass with seriously propulsive rhythms. Due to the CD’s cover art, folks may call this eponymous album “Hard Driving Bluegrass,” which is a fair description except for not saying anything about the superior vocals.

The band offers a fully-committed, exciting brand of roots bluegrass. Just check out the old-school fiddle kickoff leading to Audie’s cashonthebarrelhead singing on “Roll On Blues” by Connie Gately. It thrills just to read the songwriter credits on dusted-off Blaylock and crew: Bob Osborne, Lester Flatt, Frank Wakefield, Bill Tidwell, Cullen Galyean.

Although just their second album as a group, they offer the powerful chops of youth and a confident maturity of purpose and cohesion as an ensemble. Fiddler Patrick McAvinue, Jason Johnson on mandolin, bassist Matt Wallace, and banjoist Evan Ward deliver the goods on material as diverse as the Bailes Brothers’ “Send Me Your Address From Heaven” and the glacial gospel classic “Goodbye” from Jimmy Martin and Paul Williams. All but McAvinue contribute vocals.

The only true negative about the album (produced by Audie with Scott Vestal engineering) is that it leaves you wanting more. Altogether, the dozen songs aggregate but 33 minutes. That means each song fires out in a narrow range from 2:10 (the gorgeous a cappella “Who Will Sing For Me”) to 3:40 (“My Blue Eyed Darling”). Nine of them clock in at less than three minutes. That and the absence of any instrumental pieces somewhat undercuts the positive effects of carefully sequencing medium, fast, and slow material, sacred and secular songs. (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 660040D, Arcadia, CA 91066,  www.ruralrhythm.com.)AM

Larry Keel and Natural Bridge

Larry Keel & Natural BridgeBACKWOODS

No Label
LKNB09

Expert musicians know in reality, it’s about the band and the final product, not just the star dominating the limelight. Larry Keel is an expert musician and having surrounded himself with musicians of high caliber, he gives them room to shine.

Mandolinist Mark Schimick, a forwardleaning player with a propulsive right hand, shows his chops and vocals on his own composition, “Ghost Driver,” sliding into the opening verse with a nifty intro full of rapid right-hand ornaments, setting a swinging, bluesy groove. He later closes the album with another original, “Swarmin’ Bees.” Banjoist Jason Flournoy gets his chance with his own “Bohemian Reel” and on the extended solo and backing on the rhythmically intriguing “Diamond Break.” Guest fiddler Bobby Britt appears on three tracks, most notably on a striking performance in which he underlines the gypsy roots of Kenny Baker’s “Bluegrass In The Backwoods.”

Of course, Keel is not obscured. He wrote four of he tunes. Two are exceptional: “Diamond Break,” co-written with Chris Jones, recalls Guy Clark in both structure and vocal; “They” is an impassioned and stomping plea for taking concern of our own lives rather than listening to the rants, plans, and lives of others.

Keel adds his unique lead vocals to five tracks which include the two mentioned above and on covers of Tom T. Hall’s “Faster Horses” and Lennon/McCartney’s “Mother Nature’s Son.” His “Faster Horses,” in many ways, trumps the original; its more world-weary and sly than Hall’s own version. While I won’t say he trumps the Beatles, Keel’s “Mother Nature’s Son” evokes a mood that Paul and John could only dream about.
And, of course, there are numerous mesmerizing Keel guitar solos scattered throughout the recording; check out “Bohemian Reel.” Better yet, check out the whole recording. (Keel Office, P.O. Box 30, Lexington, VA 24450, www.larrykeel.com.)BW

Bobby Osborne and the Rocky Top Express

Bobby OsborneBLUEGRASS AND BEYOND

Rounder Records
166106032

Given the title, you might think Bobby Osborne was going to go way out there. After all, he’s been going beyond traditional bluegrass since at least the mid’60s. If he has to mention it after all these years, there must be some wild stuff on this recording, right?

Well, not really. Two slow country tunes (“After The Fire Is Gone” and “You Can”) and a slow countryrock tune (the Eagles’ “Girl From Yesterday”) are about the limit. The other two songs of country origin, Jerry Reed’s “Let’s Sing Our Song” and Eddie Rabbitt’s ’70s country hit “Driving My Life Away,” are given uptempo and relatively straight bluegrass arrangements, but retain elements of country, swing, and pop. The Reed tune has a few more identity issues, seeming to shift moods as its struts along in its new bluegrass guise, but both are wellsuited to bluegrass treatment and therefore sound good.
There is much here that sounds good, especially Osborne’s vocals and the support of banjoist Dana Cupp, bassist Daryl Mosely, resonator guitarist Matt Despain and, in particular, fiddler Glen Duncan, who lets it fly several times to great effect. Among the highlights is “What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul,” given a split arrangement with Osborne and Marty Stuart for a couple of traditionalsounding verses, then Osborne and Connie Smith with a more country verse, closing in a trio with Osborne and doubletracked Duncan. A good word should also be said for the cover of Ira Louvin’s “Way Up On The Mountain” and for the gospel and social commentary in “A Wise Man’s Mind Will Change.”

I closed a previous review of an Osborne recording with, “You’ll smile and nod in agreement while listening to it.” The same holds true here. (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA, 01803 www.rounder.com.)BW

Olivia Smiley and Main Street

Olivia SmileyBRIGHT LIGHTS AND AVENUES

No Label
No Number

Olivia Smiley is a young, Indiana fiddler/singer/songwriter with confidence and a wealth of talent. This is her second recording and is backed by her band, Main Street, that includes guitarist/vocalist Jeff Guernsey, banjoist Klint Brown, and bassist Kolin Brown. Michael Cleveland guests throughout on mandolin.

The project opens with two covers and closes with two covers. Of those four songs, the standard “We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart” and the cover of Osborne and Pete Goble’s “Windy City” deserve mention. Of particular note is the arrangement of “We’ll Meet Again…,” on which Smiley and Guernsey trade the lead vocals. It makes for a nice twist and is underscored by a chugging rhythmic snap.

The true heart and interest, however, lies in the eight original songs and two original instrumentals contributed by Smiley herself—specifically, four of them. The first is the slow, threequarter-time “Love Left For You,” which expertly blends a gospel-style melody and a marching rhythm in the vocals. It is the album’s highlight. Then comes the wonderful imagery of “Seems Like Yesterday,” in which a house once wellkept declines as a father, now alone, does the same. The next is “I’ll Be Home,” a song that recalls the work of Claire Lynch in its use of direct lyrics and a great melodic hook; the extended solos are also welldone all around. The last of the quartet is the country-swing instrumental, “Bitter Creek,” which features Smiley’s liquid and bluesy fiddling from start to finish over a snappy, closedchord rhythm.

You could stop there and claim success, but the two aforementioned covers, a couple of lesserbutgood originals, and some tight instrumental support throughout make it all the more so. (Olivia Smiley, P.O. Box 263, Greensburg, IN 47240, www.oliviasmiley.com.)BW

Steve Martin The CrowSTEVE MARTIN
THE CROW: NEW SONGS FOR THE 5 STRING BANJO

Rounder Records
11661-0647-2

Every time I hear of an actor deciding to explore his or her music muse, my expectations for the finished product aren’t high because of past examples from several bodies of dusty work on the shelves. This isn’t the case with actor/comedian Steve Martin. For one, he has the credibility of being one of the chosen few to play with his idol Earl Scruggs on a latter day celebrity packed recording of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” He also wrote and picked on Tony Trischka’s Grammy nominated and 2007 IBMA Instrumental Album Of The Year, “Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular.” Before I even inserted the CD, I read through the wonderfully detailed 24page liner notes detailing the inspiration for each of the album’s songs (an excellent addition to the project) and learned from Steve’s own words the great degree of respect he has for the banjo: “I can’t imagine the vacancy I would have had in my life without this peculiar instrument running through it.”

With his childhood friend, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member John McEuen at the control knobs, Martin brought in a who’s who list of musicians from a variety of genres to flesh out his creative endeavors with his fivestring wizardry. On his first fulllength bluegrass album, this “wild and crazy guy” enlisted Vince Gill and Dolly Parton (“Pretty Flowers”), Mary Black (“Calico Train”), and Tim O’Brien (“Daddy Played The Banjo”), along with banjo legend Earl Scruggs, and banjo masters Trischka, McEuen, and Pete Wernick. This comic’s talent shows a serious exploration of his love for the fivestring on a CD he jokingly refers to as “the most expensive banjo album in the history of the universe and that includes possible alternative universes, too.” (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA 01803, www.rounder.com.)BC

Audie Blaylock and RedlineAUDIE BLAYLOCK AND REDLINE

Rural Rhythm
RHR 1042

Audie Blaylock has ranked among the most respected sidemen in bluegrass for more than twenty years, having worked with Jimmy Martin, Rhonda Vincent, Lynn Morris, and Michael Cleveland, to name a few. It should come as no surprise then that Audie Blaylock and Redline delivers fairly traditional bluegrass with seriously propulsive rhythms. Due to the CD’s cover art, folks may call this eponymous album “Hard Driving Bluegrass,” which is a fair description except for not saying anything about the superior vocals.

The band offers a fully-committed, exciting brand of roots bluegrass. Just check out the old-school fiddle kickoff leading to Audie’s cashonthebarrelhead singing on “Roll On Blues” by Connie Gately. It thrills just to read the songwriter credits on dusted-off Blaylock and crew: Bob Osborne, Lester Flatt, Frank Wakefield, Bill Tidwell, Cullen Galyean.

Although just their second album as a group, they offer the powerful chops of youth and a confident maturity of purpose and cohesion as an ensemble. Fiddler Patrick McAvinue, Jason Johnson on mandolin, bassist Matt Wallace, and banjoist Evan Ward deliver the goods on material as diverse as the Bailes Brothers’ “Send Me Your Address From Heaven” and the glacial gospel classic “Goodbye” from Jimmy Martin and Paul Williams. All but McAvinue contribute vocals.

The only true negative about the album (produced by Audie with Scott Vestal engineering) is that it leaves you wanting more. Altogether, the dozen songs aggregate but 33 minutes. That means each song fires out in a narrow range from 2:10 (the gorgeous a cappella “Who Will Sing For Me”) to 3:40 (“My Blue Eyed Darling”). Nine of them clock in at less than three minutes. That and the absence of any instrumental pieces somewhat undercuts the positive effects of carefully sequencing medium, fast, and slow material, sacred and secular songs. (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 660040D, Arcadia, CA 91066,  www.ruralrhythm.com.)AM

Larry Keel & Natural BridgeLARRY KEEL & NATURAL BRIDGE
BACKWOODS

No Label
LKNB09

Expert musicians know in reality, it’s about the band and the final product, not just the star dominating the limelight. Larry Keel is an expert musician and having surrounded himself with musicians of high caliber, he gives them room to shine.

Mandolinist Mark Schimick, a forwardleaning player with a propulsive right hand, shows his chops and vocals on his own composition, “Ghost Driver,” sliding into the opening verse with a nifty intro full of rapid right-hand ornaments, setting a swinging, bluesy groove. He later closes the album with another original, “Swarmin’ Bees.” Banjoist Jason Flournoy gets his chance with his own “Bohemian Reel” and on the extended solo and backing on the rhythmically intriguing “Diamond Break.” Guest fiddler Bobby Britt appears on three tracks, most notably on a striking performance in which he underlines the gypsy roots of Kenny Baker’s “Bluegrass In The Backwoods.”

Of course, Keel is not obscured. He wrote four of he tunes. Two are exceptional: “Diamond Break,” co-written with Chris Jones, recalls Guy Clark in both structure and vocal; “They” is an impassioned and stomping plea for taking concern of our own lives rather than listening to the rants, plans, and lives of others.

Keel adds his unique lead vocals to five tracks which include the two mentioned above and on covers of Tom T. Hall’s “Faster Horses” and Lennon/McCartney’s “Mother Nature’s Son.” His “Faster Horses,” in many ways, trumps the original; its more world-weary and sly than Hall’s own version. While I won’t say he trumps the Beatles, Keel’s “Mother Nature’s Son” evokes a mood that Paul and John could only dream about.
And, of course, there are numerous mesmerizing Keel guitar solos scattered throughout the recording; check out “Bohemian Reel.” Better yet, check out the whole recording. (Keel Office, P.O. Box 30, Lexington, VA 24450, www.larrykeel.com.)BW

Bobby OsborneBOBBY OSBORNE & THE ROCKY TOP EXPRESS
BLUEGRASS AND BEYOND

Rounder Records
166106032

Given the title, you might think Bobby Osborne was going to go way out there. After all, he’s been going beyond traditional bluegrass since at least the mid’60s. If he has to mention it after all these years, there must be some wild stuff on this recording, right?

Well, not really. Two slow country tunes (“After The Fire Is Gone” and “You Can”) and a slow countryrock tune (the Eagles’ “Girl From Yesterday”) are about the limit. The other two songs of country origin, Jerry Reed’s “Let’s Sing Our Song” and Eddie Rabbitt’s ’70s country hit “Driving My Life Away,” are given uptempo and relatively straight bluegrass arrangements, but retain elements of country, swing, and pop. The Reed tune has a few more identity issues, seeming to shift moods as its struts along in its new bluegrass guise, but both are wellsuited to bluegrass treatment and therefore sound good.
There is much here that sounds good, especially Osborne’s vocals and the support of banjoist Dana Cupp, bassist Daryl Mosely, resonator guitarist Matt Despain and, in particular, fiddler Glen Duncan, who lets it fly several times to great effect. Among the highlights is “What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul,” given a split arrangement with Osborne and Marty Stuart for a couple of traditional sounding verses, then Osborne and Connie Smith with a more country verse, closing in a trio with Osborne and double tracked Duncan. A good word should also be said for the cover of Ira Louvin’s “Way Up On The Mountain” and for the gospel and social commentary in “A Wise Man’s Mind Will Change.”

I closed a previous review of an Osborne recording with, “You’ll smile and nod in agreement while listening to it.” The same holds true here. (Rounder Records, One Rounder Way, Burlington, MA, 01803 www.rounder.com.)BW

Olivia SmileyOLIVIA SMILEY & MAIN STREET
BRIGHT LIGHTS AND AVENUES

No Label
No Number

Olivia Smiley is a young, Indiana fiddler/singer/songwriter with confidence and a wealth of talent. This is her second recording and is backed by her band, Main Street, that includes guitarist/vocalist Jeff Guernsey, banjoist Klint Brown, and bassist Kolin Brown. Michael Cleveland guests throughout on mandolin.

The project opens with two covers and closes with two covers. Of those four songs, the standard “We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart” and the cover of Osborne and Pete Goble’s “Windy City” deserve mention. Of particular note is the arrangement of “We’ll Meet Again…,” on which Smiley and Guernsey trade the lead vocals. It makes for a nice twist and is underscored by a chugging rhythmic snap.

The true heart and interest, however, lies in the eight original songs and two original instrumentals contributed by Smiley herself—specifically, four of them. The first is the slow, threequarter-time “Love Left For You,” which expertly blends a gospel-style melody and a marching rhythm in the vocals. It is the album’s highlight. Then comes the wonderful imagery of “Seems Like Yesterday,” in which a house once wellkept declines as a father, now alone, does the same. The next is “I’ll Be Home,” a song that recalls the work of Claire Lynch in its use of direct lyrics and a great melodic hook; the extended solos are also well done all around. The last of the quartet is the country-swing instrumental, “Bitter Creek,” which features Smiley’s liquid and bluesy fiddling from start to finish over a snappy, closed chord rhythm.

You could stop there and claim success, but the two aforementioned covers, a couple of lesserbutgood originals, and some tight instrumental support throughout make it all the more so. (Olivia Smiley, P.O. Box 263, Greensburg, IN 47240, www.oliviasmiley.com.)BW