Sound — 8
Some of you may recognize Steve Martin from his years of stand up comedy, or from his numerous movies ("3 Amigos," "Father of the Bride"). For anyone, his list of appearances and accomplishments would be enough. For years Steve Martin played his banjo on stage during his comedy act, he's now made the jump from "comic dabbler" to "banjo virtuoso" showcasing his talent on "Rare Bird Alert." The album is primarily folk and bluegrass banjo driven tunes, at times it sounds like a barber shop quartet with banjos, fiddles and guitars. The album also features the likes a Paul McCartney among other guest singers and players. "Rare Bird Alert" is the seventh release from "The Steep Canyon Rangers," however it is the only one featuring Steve Martin and it was nominated for Best Bluegrass Album at The Grammy Awards. The highlight of this album is the string work on banjos, mandolins, fiddles and acoustic guitars. Graham Sharp's quick finger picking and remarkable work on the frets makes the entire album entertaining and musically engaging. I found myself listening to tracks over and over again, because the first time, my ear could not keep up with the speed of Sharp's playing. His playing is in a way an homage to Bluegrass' best banjo player Earl Scruggs, the complexity of the banjo is of the highest difficulty while it is complimented by the violin playing of Nick Sanders. Songs about fishing, dancing and country life make this album just perfect when paired with a class of sweet tea and a rocking chair.
Lyrics — 8
As stated above, the lyrical subjects range from those of love and life to fishing and line dancing. The majority are light hearted and sometimes comic. The singing is mostly done in harmony, all the members of the band contribute to the vocals, rarely is just one voice singing. The harmonies are rather impressive, however the groups as a whole are all very talented vocalists. The singing and lyrical content match the music perfectly, the harmonies often sound like a well practiced barber shop quartet, which adds to the light hearted flair and subject matter of a number of songs.
Overall Impression — 8
You don't have to be a fan of bluegrass to appreciate "Rare Bird Alert," however after a listen or two you might get the urge to go out and buy a banjo (I know because I did). There really is not anything in mainstream music to compare it to; the album has its own laid back and fun loving personality. If anything, I would compare it to Mumford And Sons' "Babel," but that is an apples to oranges comparison at best. The most impressive songs on the album are "Yellow-Backed Fly" and "Women Like to Slow Dance." There are also a few of bonus tracks depending on the version, "Atheists Don't Have No Songs" and "King Tut" are both very funny tunes. If it somehow disappeared from my iPod, I wouldn't waste any time getting it replaced.