May 29th, 2009 04:41 EST
One Wild & Crazy Guy Debuts The Serious Side To His Musical Talents
No, Dan Aykroyd is not the Festrunk Brother who has just released his country album to the surprise of many of his long-time fans and younger audiences unfamiliar with the entertainer`s work.
Instead, that honor belongs to actor/comedian Steve Martin, whose new album, "The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo" jumped to number 106 on the Billboard 200 this week on the strength of its involvement in the last week`s episode of "American Idol."
Martin guest-starred on Fox`s hit talent show to accompany contestants Megan Joy and Michael Sarver on the banjo during their duet of "Pretty Flowers": a track from his new album.
But unlike his album, which is exclusively musical in nature, Martin offered an "Idol" audience of millions a subdued dose of his especially perverse sense of humor. The show`s host Ryan Seacrest asked Martin who he thought would be crowned "American Idol" for this year, to which he replied: "I know it`s a long shot, but I hope I do."
The multit-faceted celebrity has had commercial success before, notably when three of his comedy discs charted on the Billboard 200 from 1977 thru 1979.
Early on his musical career, Martin gained popularity for the novelty hit "King Tut" which coincided with a public fascination over the Ancient Egyptian King and his valuables, resulting in the song`s massive appeal. "King Tut" was in the vein of comedy rock: an exercise in style he abandoned once the song was released.
Martin usually accompanied his non sequitors and hilarious ramblings with some banjo flourishes on stage during his stand-up sketches, and even demonstrated faint signs of virtuosity on the instrument in front of audiences who didn`t come to hear his interests in American roots music.
But Martin`s last LP "The Steve Martin Brothers" in 1981 alluded to the pure country of his latter day release since the second half of the record was devoted to banjo numbers, while the first half still showcased his talents as a funnyman.
His latest album, comprised of a backwoods blend of contemporary and progressive bluegrass, marks a significant departure for the wacky comic who in the past had infused his scanty musical offerings with humorous themes and monologue while sticking mainly to stand-up routines as album cuts. While his appearance on "Idol" may have boosted sales of "The Crow", critics seem to have welcomed the record as an successful effort from an earnest performer proving he`s capable of not only shtick, but substance.
Though many admirers of his insanely off-color comedy may be turned off by the serious-minded musician replacing his comical side, some may just be moved by the poignancy and intricacies of Martin`s interpretations of his own work and his advanced banjo playing technique. Giving credit to Martin`s standing in country, some of the genre`s heaviest hitters including Dolly Parton, Vince Gill and Earl Scruggs, have lended their talents to the final product. Though probably not a coincidence, John McKuen from the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which played backup on Martin`s "King Tut", produced the album.
Of the 16 songs on the album, only one was not composed by Martin. "Clawhammer Medley", the only cover on "The Crow", effuses the same august and lilting quality that pervades the comic-turned-banjo picker`s labor of love from start to finish.