Though there aren’t many human beings on this planet who think of Steve Martin as a musician first and an actor second, that doesn’t change the fact that the silver-haired comedian has released some pretty strong material over the years. The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo, his debut album, was a determinedly enjoyable release that combined thigh-slappin’ cheesiness with solid song-writing, and though his new record So Familiar isn’t as good, it’s still a pleasantly constructed romp.
So Familiar is credited to both Martin and Edie Brickell, and Brickell’s contribution ironically provides both the highlights and downsides of the record. On the one hand, Brickell has a strikingly tender voice, and her vocal delivery on tracks like Always Will and By My Side genuinely impresses. She brings a heartfelt sincerity to the release; elevating tracks like the touching Another Round into the stratosphere, making every single line resonate.
But herein lies the rub. Brickell’s honest, raw emotion sits in perfect contrast to Martin’s adorably excessive banjo playing, and her polished delivery does move the piece closer towards mainstream country than it deserves to be. The Crow was so striking because it was so odd; so defiantly old-fashioned. So Familiar shares none of that perverse nostalgia, and there is something disappointingly familiar – pun intended – about a track like Heart Of The Dreamer.
Not to imply the record is totally devoid with pleasure. Ultimately, it is what it is: a slightly staid, slightly stiff slice of pop country that, though serviceable enough, never reaches the dizzying heights of Martin’s past work.