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Arts & Music

Steve Martin raises bluegrass band's profile

Tribune correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: May 17, 2013 at 11:41 AM

There is one constant when Woody Platt is being interviewed. Steve Martin's name is always bandied about but that's just fine with the Steep Canyon Rangers vocalist-guitarist.

It's difficult not to mention the bluegrass band's high-profile banjo player.

“That's perfectly understandable since people notice Steve Martin and that makes sense,” Platt said. “We love having Steve with us. He's so creative and so focused and an excellent self-taught banjo player. When he plays, you know it's him. Nobody else sounds like him. We won't deny that it opened up doors for us. It's broadened our audience.”

The Steep Canyon Rangers hooked up with Martin through his wife, writer Anne Stringfield. “She took him to the mountains in North Carolina for vacation and that's where we live and we ended up jamming with him,” Platt said. “We enjoyed picking with him so much that one thing led to another.”

Martin joined the progressive bluegrass band, which will back the iconic renaissance man and Edie Brickell Thursday at the Mahaffey Theater, in 2009.

SCR is a bluegrass act that adds pop and folk flavor to its sound.

“We want to stretch the boundaries,” Platt said. “We don't want to be like every other bluegrass band.”

The band avoids the old timey feel that so many of its peers indulge in. “Been there, done that,” Platt said. “That's kind of boring to me. We want to stretch the parameters.”

The band recently finished an album that features a drummer, which is considered verboten in blue grass circles.

“We don't care what anyone thinks,” Platt said. “We wanted to add a full set of drums to the mix and we did it. We just recorded in Levon Helm's studio in New York and when we were there we just said, 'well, let's go for it, what we do is limitless.”

Steep Canyon Rangers, which also includes banjo player Graham Sharp, mandolin player Mike Guggino, bassist Charles R. Humphrey and fiddler Nicky Sanders, completed its recent album without Martin. However, the band plans to record with the comic legend during the summer after the group acts as Martin and Edie Brickell's backing band through June.

“There is the tour for their album (“Love Has Come For You,” which dropped in April),” Platt said. “After that we'll get with Steve and we'll see where we go from there. But we're excited about going out with them. Their album is just exceptional.”

“Love Has Come For You” shouldn't be filed under bluegrass like SCR releases. The gentle, soothing, elegant songs are more folk than bluegrass or country. It's a true collaboration for this era's and Steve and Edie.

Martin plays his banjo in a unique manner. “You really know it's Steve, just by listening,” Platt said.

The melodic and warm sounds, which emanate from Martin's banjo are a perfect match for Brickell's clever but unpretentiousness lyrics. There's an uncommon, at least for contemporary albums, combination of grace and beauty throughout the release.

“I think this album really stands on its own,” Platt said. “You don't get many albums that are unique like this. I was more than happy to sign on to back them up. The album is really that good. If you like the studio recording, just wait until you experience it live.”

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