"The Long-Awaited Album" [LP]
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  • The Long-Awaited Album arrived six years after Rare Bird Alert, the 2011 collaboration between Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, so perhaps the wait between records wasn't all that long. Still, the clever title also suggests the difference between this 2017 affair and its predecessor: Martin is no longer hesitant to crack a joke as he stands behind a banjo. After playing it relatively straight on 2009's The Crow -- the album where he revived his longstanding love of bluegrass -- a smile started to creep into his performances on Rare Bird Alert, but on The Long-Awaited Album he seems unable to resist any quip that fluttered across his mind. Perhaps this is a reaction to the pair of subdued records Martin cut with Edie Brickell in the mid-2010s, but Martin seems ready to cut loose with jokes and fingerpicking. The Steep Canyon Rangers are ideal foils for him in that regard, as they're fleet-fingered and versatile, and they boast a fine deadpan singer in Woody Platt, who trades off tunes with Martin. The songs on The Long-Awaited Album are littered with references to contemporary life -- references to cell phones, Olive Garden, and Skype calls are threaded into a mosaic of modern life -- and the music feels fresh too, alternating between lilting ballads, funny bits designed for a stage, and the quick-stepping instrumentals that act as the glue binding it all together. Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers specialize in good cheer, and while that means they can sometimes overplay their hand here -- "Strangest Christmas Yet" sticks out like a sore thumb, each punch line landing with a thud -- their act is ingratiating and so is The Long-Awaited Album. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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