The cover of the second album from Steve Martin and Edie Brickell looks like the poster for a light, sophisticated rom-com targeted to an older, NPR-ish audience. That’s the vibe of the rootsy music they make, too: smart and stately, full of detailed craft and unfussy intimacy. Renaissance man Martin has long since his proven his deep chops as a bluegrass banjo picker (the International Bluegrass Association just gave him a Distinguished Achievement Award, for gosh’s sake).
If you’re looking for wild and craziness from Martin (or even any discernable vocal presence), you’ll be disappointed; he’s happy to play the tasteful backing partner in songs that honor musical traditions and mix them up a little too. “Won’t Go Back” endearingly recalls the Eighties college-hippie pop Brickell pushed up the charts with the New Bohemians, while the elegant piano ballads “I’m By Your Side” and “Way Back In the Day” shade nicely between jazz and country. Honeyed by ace sidemen like ace session bassist Leland Sklar and banjo player Bela Fleck, Brickell’s stately songwriting often tilts towards the forlorn, regretful side of folk music, touching on romance gone wrong (“I Had A Vision”), boozing “to make the pain go away” (“Another Round”) and death (“Heartbreaker”). Despite having a comedy legend on hand, what this pair do is serious business.