Steve Martin & Edie Brickell "So Familiar"

In 2013 Edie Brickell and Steve Martin won a Grammy Award for their album Love Has Come for You. It seemed an unlikely pairing, the legendary comic, actor, author, and banjo aficionado, and the laid-back singer-songwriter wife of Paul Simon, but chemistry is an elusive and unpredictable ingredient in relationships. Martin wrote melodies, Brickell matched them with quaint lyrics about familial love, and the pair produced magic. A follow-up seemed inevitable.

So Familiar expands on themes of home and family, and the duo continues to employ the same writing process. Where the album differs is in enhanced musical arrangements, including lush strings and saxophone, and a stronger focus on character and narrative. The change was precipitated by a new project the pair created, a Broadway musical.  “Bright Star” was written by Martin, and is the jump-off point for several of this album’s songs. Instead of culling from personal experience Brickell writes in the voice of the story’s characters.

So Familiar begins in familiar fashion; the title track and “Always Will” picks up where the debut left off, with folksy melodies populated by acoustic guitar and banjo. The third track marks a change. “Way Back in the Day,” is sustained by piano, subtle pedal steel, banjo, and swelling strings. “I’m On Your Side” is another track that stands apart from the bluegrass simplicity of “Won’t Go Back” or “Another Round.” “Heart of a Dreamer” is imbued with Celtic rhythms matched by strings and banjo.

Brickell writes with a sweet, sentimental bent, even when writing of sorrow. “Heartbreaker” mourns a loss that tears a family apart. She can also throw a bit of attitude at you as on “Another Round,” a drinking song that makes an argument about quick judgements. “I Had a Vision” features a clever narrator who’s made a decision about her future mate. Martin chimes in on backing vocal on “I Have You,” a ballad that defines the word “darling.”  If you’re in search of an album that you can share with the whole family, you’d be hard pressed to find something more appealing then this gem.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)