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Steve Martin and Edie Brickell with David Letterman show
Associated Press/Photo byJohn Paul Filo
Steve Martin and Edie Brickell with David Letterman show

Martin and Brickell stumble toward truth in bluegrass collaboration

Music

The new musical collaboration from actor/comedian Steve Martin and rock singer Edie Brickell is a remarkable collection of toe-tapping bluegrass music with some surprising pro-life themes.  

Love Has Come For You hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Bluegrass chart and has remained there almost since its April release. It marks something of a departure for both artists.  On his two previous records, Martin wrote his own lyrics and played his banjo fast and furious. On the current effort, Martin leaves the lyrics to Brickell, and he emphasizes a more contemplative banjo style. Stitching his way easily through complex chord progressions, Martin’s playing lends a sense of journey to the music.  

In some ways, it’s a journey into the old-timey musical past, but a choice use of electric guitar, organ, and string quintet keep it feeling fresh. Both artists acknowledge it’s a journey inward. Martin told The Telegraph: “I feel like these are the banjo songs I’ve always been waiting to write.” Brickell described in the same interview how listening to Martin’s music triggered a flood of memories of her Texas roots and family, especially of her grandmother’s large family of 11 children and her little home in Paris, Texas “up on stilts with cool sand underneath.” 

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Indeed the album is imbued with a sense of familiar reminiscence. Brickell populates the songs with quirky characters, like a “creepy cousin with the handlebar mustache” and a preacher stopping by to sample Momma’s home cooking.  

But with realistic characters come realistic choices, bad and good. The title track begins: “She had a child by that man from the bank/He was married with a son.” The young woman’s family worries about scandal and exhorts her to “Give that child away/Try to erase what you done.” The woman keeps the child, however, and encounters a love that vastly enriches her whole life. Hence the moving chorus, an announcement by angels: “Love, love, love has come for you,” which affirms the preciousness of human life even when conceived in unplanned or problematic circumstances.

Another life-affirming journey on the album is the powerful track “Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby.” The song tells the true story of 72-year-old Civil War veteran William Helms, who was out by the railroad tracks when someone pitched a suitcase overboard that fell 50 feet down into the river. To his shock, Helms found a 5-day-old baby boy inside.  Helms drew the abandoned infant out of the river and brought him home to his wife, Sarah Jane, and they raised him as their own. 

The album Love Has come For You is not a journey without peril. Characters make some poor choices  and show a too-casual attitude toward romantic relationships. But these are not described in detail and often serve as a context for lessons learned. Through Brickell’s warm crooning and Martin’s unhurried banjo picking, the characters stumble toward truth.  

Jeff Koch
Jeff Koch

Jeff is a mortgage lender and graduate of the World Journalism Institute's Mid-Career Course. He lives with his wife and their eight children in the Chicago area.

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