The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo by Steve Martin

If you had been walking along just the right street in Garden Grove, Calif., on a hot summer day during the early 1960s, you might have seen something very interesting indeed: a 17-year-old Steve Martin practicing the banjo in his car with all the windows rolled up, sweating out every note with a look of stern determination. As he wrote in his memoir, Born Standing Up, “it was the only place to practice without agonizing everyone in the house.”

Steve’s passion for the instrument was born when he heard Flatt & Scruggs’ “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” at 17, and it never waned—not even after he became internationally famous as a comedian, actor, playwright and author. Nonetheless, he always refrained from documenting his skills with a full-length album—until now. Like the best of his books and movies, The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo feels as if it has been rigorously thought out, carefully executed and ruthlessly edited. The result is a start-to-finish treat that more than vindicates its creator’s decision to share his musical side at last.

Of course, that 17-year-old just learning his way around the banjo had the good luck of going to high school with John McEuen, a master of the instrument who would later go on to fame as a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. John acts as the able producer for The Crow, and guests like Vince Gill and Dolly Parton pitch in on the handful of vocal tracks. (Steve himself sings only the delightfully silly “Late for School.”) But Steve’s joyfully spirited picking throughout these 15 tracks—all but one Martin originals—is the main attraction.

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