Martin's on his fourth (or is it sixth?) creative career, having torched the playing field already in comedy writing (Smothers Brothers), stand-up comedy, pop parody ("King Tut"), film acting, authoring ( Shopgirl), and art collecting. Brickell, 47, and married since 1992 to Paul Simon, first made a splash with the Dallas band the New Bohemians, especially in the 1988 tune "What I Am," which featured her improvisational lyrics and signature vocals.
Love Has Come for You is not the scorched-earth alt-bluegrass that Martin has made his own in the last few years. "When I work with the Rangers, we do songs that are pretty fast and are sort of showoff songs," Martin says. "The songs on this album, though, are mellow, things you listen to, and I can see the audience relaxing. They tap their feet, close their eyes, and rock their heads."
How did this surprising collaboration work? Ever the improviser, Brickell says she likes "listening to the music and hearing what it inspires me to sing." She took her cue from Martin's playing. "I essentially wrote all of what you hear on the banjo, and those parts remain unchanged," Martin says. "And Edie wrote her vocals and melodies and lyrics, and those remain unchanged." So Brickell and Martin share music credits, while Martin, interestingly enough, takes no lyrical credits.
Love Has Come for You is an album of stories. In "Siamese Cat," a couple break up because one partner doesn't like the other's wild daughter. In "Sarah Jane," a baby in a suitcase is thrown into a river, saved, and given to a woman, who falls in love with it by raising it. "King of Boys," especially unusual, is based on a Welsh ghost story.
The whole thing is beautifully done. Accomplished producer Peter Asher was the confection-meister, and besides the Rangers, there are cameos from bassist wonder Esperanza Spaulding, guitar star Waddy Wachtel, the Webb Sisters, and former Nickel Creekers Sara and Sean Watkins.
In an era in which artists often strive to be "dark," Love Has Come for You offers an unusually openhearted belief in happiness, as in the title tune, in "Friend of Mine," which is on true friendship, and "Sun's Gonna Shine," in which a person under a cloud still feels things will be better.
"I think the darkness thing might just be a 25-year fad," Martin says. Brickell says, "It meant a lot to me to feel I could express that range of feelings. I covered a lot of angst when I was younger, and I got to a point in life where I wanted to express the buoyant spirit I think I've always had."
Texas has something to do with it, too, both artists having been born there. "I left Texas when I was 5," says Martin, "but as a kid I was preoccupied with it, and all my relatives were from there. And I think of the banjo as connected with a Texas sensibility." (Martin picked up the instrument "at 16 or 17, which is late, but that was 50 years ago, so it's not late anymore.")
Brickell says, "Up here where I live now in the Northeast, there's a formality and a distance in the way people talk to each other. I've never figured that out. Where I come from, I used to love sitting with my grandmother and her sisters and listen to the way they talked. I can't tell you how much I miss it." Both think the stories, and the belief in happiness, are Texas-inflected.
Martin marvels at the whole thing, professing to be as surprised as anyone else at how well this collaboration is working, both e-mail and live: "It's gone in a direction I'd never have imagined, and that's just great."
Steve & Edie
Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Edie Brickell perform at 8 p.m. Thursday at Verizon Hall, the Kimmel Center, 300 S. Broad St. Tickets: $45-$75. Information: 215-893-1999 or www.kimmelcenter.org.
Contact John Timpane at 215-854-4406 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter, @jtimpane.