- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2011

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, “Rare Bird Alert” (Rounder)

With his introductory bluegrass album, 2009’s “The Crow: New Songs For The Five String Banjo,” actor, writer and comedian Steve Martin proved he could write and play with a talent comparable to top-level acoustic musicians. Across 16 songs, most of them instrumentals, his banjo work measured up with his all-star supporting cast.

For “Rare Bird Alert,” Martin records with the Steep Canyon Rangers, a well-regarded bluegrass ensemble that backed him on tour. He limits guests this time, but employs two marquee names: Paul McCartney, sounding decidedly un-British, on “Best Love,” written by Martin for his wife Anne; and the Dixie Chicks on the beautiful “You,” a ballad about how a relationship’s end can include fond memories, even if things didn’t work out.

But the album’s biggest difference comes from more vocals, allowing Martin to write lyrics that express the mix of braininess and goofiness that has made him such a popular comedian. He includes a string-band cover of his million-selling 1978 novelty hit, “King Tut,” and an original, “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs,” done gospel style, about how non-believers lack a catalog of good spirituals. “Jubilation Day” celebrates the end of a relationship with glee_and humor.

Still, the foundation of “Rare Bird Alert” is the tight musical interplay of an outstanding group of musicians_with Martin leading the way.

CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: “Go Away, Stop, Turn Around, Come Back” relates, with hilarity and honesty, a man’s confusion as he considers breaking up with his partner_until realizing their favorite show airs that night.

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