[Today: Switching gears…]
There’s a moment mid-way through his 1978 album A Wild And Crazy Guy when Steve Martin, apropos of nothing, sings “Hey! Grandpaaaaaaa bought a rubber!” This three second bit killed me as a kid, and it can still reduce me to belly laughs if I think about it long enough. I have no idea what that joke means (besides grandpa’s cheating), or why it’s funny, but it’s a burst of sheer, absurd genius. Most comedy ages poorly (even Eddie Murphy’s Delirious isn’t a third as funny as I remember), but it’s amazing how well this album holds up. Martin tells a lesbian joke to a two year old, talks about books he’s “written”, like I’ll Take The Alphabet, Renegade Nuns On Wheels and The Apple Pie Hub-bub, goes to the Bahamas for a second, and juggles with his mind. There’s some music in the set, but always in the service of comedy, like when he gags on ‘I’m In The Mood For Love’ or ad-libs some banjo licks before making a masturbation joke. In those days, his banjo seemed like it was as much a prop as the bunny ears or the arrow through the head. ‘King Tut’ was a big hit, but this whole album will break your funny bone.
Surprise then to see Martin pop up a few years back as a serious musician, making impressive appearances that showed he had some real chops on the banjo. The surprises continue with Rare Bird Alert, an album of Martin-penned originals (he got help on a few tracks) that’s 100% real Bluegrass. Undoubtedly, many of these songs have a wink and a smile (even ‘More Bad Weather On The Way’ seems like a folksy country joke), but humor has always been a part of the genre. And none of it is over the top, in-your-face comedy, with the possible exception of ‘Atheists Ain’t Got No Songs’, which jigs right up to the line. The best joke here might be ‘Women Like To Slow Dance’, which is played at a spry tempo that isn’t the least bit conducive to slow dancing. But just as music wasn’t the main selling point of A Wild And Crazy Guy, humor isn’t the reason to pick up Rare Bird Alert — good old-fashioned country music is. Had it been released 10 years ago, this might have felt like Martin cashing in on the O’ Brother Where Art Thou? revival of old-timey music. As it is, this toe-tapper seems like a wonder, coming from such wild and crazy guy…
Listen: A Wild And Crazy Guy
Listen: More Bad Weather On The Way
Listen: Cat Handcuffs
Listen: Women Like To Slow Dance