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Music » Sound Stories & Interviews

An Unlikely Pair

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell make beautiful music together

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One has been a king among comedians since first hosting Saturday Night Live in 1976. The other was queen of alternative pop on VH1 when the music video for her song "What I Am" dominated the station for much of 1988, and ruled college airwaves from coast to coast.

Somehow, in 2013, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell are in a band together.

From different generations, and different genres, the pair may seem as likely as caviar and hot sauce. Martin is so LA, a comfortable presence on the stage (and screen). Brickell is so Austin. (Or was, in her brief New Bohemian days.) And after her immediate and immense success, she largely stepped away from fame.

But when a turntable needle tucks itself into the vinyl grooves of their 2013 release Love Has Come to Find You, Brickell's smoky voice lays comfortably down on top of Martin's prickly banjo plucking. The two are perfectly yoked.

Martin's exercises in music stretch far beyond his singing silly songs in movies like The Three Amigos or the screen production of Little Shop of Horrors. The comedian has been incorporating a banjo into his stand-up routine for decades. Sometimes playing a full song with it—like he did on 1979's Comedy is Not Pretty—and other times simply strumming it during his delivery as with the memorable segment "Let's Get Small" in 1977. After shifting his focus movie acting, Martin eventually found a new outlet to explore his love for the five-string banjo, the traditional music industry.

Martin's first full bluegrass record—2009's The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo—won a Grammy for best bluegrass album. In 2011, Martin was joined by The Steep Canyon Rangers for the release of Rare Bird Alert, leading to extensive touring and television appearances.

Brickell, on the other hand, has been a part of that industry since releasing her first album in 1986. After achieving instant success with "What I Am," from the double platinum album Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars, Brickell—who, in her personal life, is married legendary troubadour Paul Simon—continued making music, but took measured steps away from the mainstream.

In 2010, Brickell orchestrated a resurgence of sorts when she released a folksy self-titled solo album, her first in seven years. Two subsequent albums with The Gaddabouts—featuring bass player Pino Palladino of John Mayer Trio fame— saw Brickell establish herself as a jazz singer.

But even with this re-entry into mainstream music (after, mind you, having three children), bluegrass and touring large venues still seemed a mile away.

Yet, that's exactly where she found herself after collaborating with Martin during her husband's 70th birthday party. She talked with U.K. publication The Telegraph about that earlier this year.

"At the party, I was brave enough to say to him: 'If you ever want to make up a song together, I'd love to,' and he said: 'As a matter of fact, I have a tune without words.'"

When the pair sat down with Rolling Stone in March, Brickell playfully conversed with Martin about their writing process.

"I was so thrilled that you kept sending tunes because they would arrive and there were little stories in them just immediately for me," she said. "I saw a lot of images, and all I had to do was sit back and narrate what I saw."

The result of their work together is a collection of songs well suited for a cabin in the Smoky Mountains. With two distinct and powerful voices, Martin's elevating banjo and Brickell's velvety vocals, the album is less bluegrass and more folk music. There is filler instrumentation rounding out each song, but the focus is clearly on the strength of these two cohorts.

Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Edie Brickell

6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4

Les Schwab Amphitheater

344 SW Shevlin Hixon Dr.

Tickets $44-90 at bendconcerts.com

About The Author

Ethan Maffey

Both a writer and a fan of vinyl records since age 5, it wasn't until nearly three decades later that Oregon Native Ethan Maffey derived a plan to marry the two passions by writing about music. From blogging on MySpace in 2007 and then Blogspot, to launching his own website, 83Music, and eventually freelancing...

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