On the follow-up to 2009’s Grammy-winning album The Crow, Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers get down to business on Rare Bird Alert with a collection of songs showcasing Martin’s rather unique take on everyday life – appropriately set to bluegrass.
Writing ten of the album’s thirteen songs himself (co-writing the other three), Martin displays a wonderful knack for writing catchy and hook-driven melodies centered on his instrument of choice, the banjo. The album’s opening song, the title-track “Rare Bird Alert,” is a quick instrumental lead by banjo and mandolin where Martin and the Rangers introduce themselves by jamming on an intricate riff before finishing off in double-time.
Four of the album’s songs are instrumentals and give the North Carolina-bred Steep Canyon Rangers a chance to show off a bit. On “Hide Behind A Rock,” fiddle player Nicky Sanders does a very nice job of creating a melody to play with and outline Martin’s banjo. One of the album’s sweetest songs is “The Great Remember (For Nancy)” where the banjo truly has a voice of its own with the inflection and pop Martin gives certain notes throughout an understated and pretty melody.
Martin’s unique sense of humor comes out on songs like “Women Like To Slow Dance,” a tune that is about 120 beats-per-minute faster than any ballad ever associated with the act of slow dancing. “They like it, they like it, they really really like it/ Hey, I like it too!” Martin sings on the barnburner. On “More Bad Weather On The Way,” a springtime banjo melody starts out with a skip as the music gives the impression of anything other than the ominous words of the song’s title.
Sir Paul McCartney and the Dixie Chicks add their vocal talents on two of the album’s songs written solely by Martin. On “Best Love,” McCartney sings, “I even like your old ex-boyfriend/ You are my best love” in recounting all the little things he notices and appreciates about his lover. On “You,” the Dixie Chicks’ beautiful three-part harmony adds tender layers to one of the album’s only songs directly about hurt as they sing “Saturday, sadder days/ Silence plays for you.”
The Steep Canyon Rangers won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Emerging Artists of the Year Award in 2006. Steve Martin has maintained one of the more remarkable careers in entertainment, comedy and the arts. Together it seems they truly have found a new partnership through traditional music to display their immense talents.