Steve Martin and Edie Brickell: Roots Music’s Odd Couple

May 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Blair Jackson


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Left to right: Peter Asher, Frank Filipetti, Steve Martin, Edie Brickell

Left to right: Peter Asher, Frank Filipetti, Steve Martin, Edie Brickell

Comedian, actor and author Steve Martin has been a dedicated banjo picker as long as he’s been in show business, but he has only occasionally elevated that interest to the top of his priority list. Perhaps you heard the Grammy-winning album he made in 2009 called The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo, or the exceptional bluegrass CD he made two years ago with the Steep Canyon Rangers, called Rare Bird Alert. The guy is serious about his music, and it turns out he’s also really good.

Since her days as a sprite fronting a loose-limbed group called New Bohemians (“What I Am” was ubiquitous in 1988 and beyond), Edie Brickell has had a fairly low-key career as a solo artist (her 2003 album Volcano is my favorite) and collaborator with various interesting folks, and also raised three children with husband Paul Simon. She has always been a terrifically appealing and engaging singer and songwriter, mixing plainspoken observations and wisdom with more abstract poetic insights.

Martin and Brickell’s brilliant and affecting new album, Love Has Come for You, plays to the strengths of both while forging a sound that is completely original and unexpected. With its vivid characters, concise storytelling and mostly acoustic instrumentation (dominated by Martin’s banjo), it certainly steps into old-time folk and bluegrass territory, yet it is not so easily pigeonholed—what do we make of the elegant strings and piano, subtle electric guitar and percussion touches, the drums and dynamic jazz bass that dapple the always tasteful and imaginative musical landscape created by producer Peter Asher? In the end it feels sort of roots-moderne.

The album started on a whim—Martin approached Brickell about writing some lyrics for a banjo piece he’d written. She loved what she heard and responded by sending him not just lyrics, but a rough performance of her singing a melody inspired by the banjo part. Martin was similarly jazzed by Brickell’s work, and they fell into a routine in which he would send her banjo melodies via email and she would quickly write lyrics and a melody, record it on an iPhone or iPad, and send it back. As she noted in a promo interview, “The opening lines came out of the banjo. The mood that Steve sets is so powerful that all I had to do was trust what I heard and how it made me feel and then just start singing, and there it was. The songs were gifts from the banjo melody.”

Asher and Martin have been friends for many years, and shared their excitement about the home-brewed recordings that Martin and Brickell were passing back and forth. “I immediately started thinking of arrangement ideas for these songs,” Asher says, “and Steve and I talked in general terms about what kind of record it could be.” After Martin formally asked Asher to produce the album, they decided to start where the rough demo explorations left off—recording just banjo and voice, but together in a great studio.

These foundational sessions took place over the course of about a week at veteran engineer Frank Filipetti’s studio, The Living Room, in his house in the scenic Hudson River town of Nyack, about an hour north of Manhattan. As an early advocate of digital consoles, Filipetti had variously championed the Neve Capricorn and Euphonix System 5 boards through the years, and favored the Nuendo recording platform, but his new studio boasts an Avid ICON D-Command console and Pro Tools 10 with HDX cards. Much of the other equipment in the studio came from Filipetti’s previous recording “home”—Studio B at Legacy (formerly Right Track) in New York City.

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