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Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers- Mike Zito- Alec Gross

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers
Rare Bird Alert


Let's get really small! There are probably still members of the general public who will be shocked to know that funnyman and actor Steve Martin is an accomplished musician. Even those who saw him play banjo on Saturday Night Live or other television shows back in the day may not realize that Martin's serious side includes a penchant for writing and performing bluegrass music. Martin has composed the music or penned the lyrics (or both) for every song here and the album begins with the title cut, a fast instrumental that could perfectly accompany a movie chase scene through the backwoods holler. Steep Canyon Rangers vocalist Woody Platt sings the relaxed "Yellow-Backed Fly," a tune as calming as the slowly-flowing creek that is the song's setting. You'll hear Paul McCartney as you've never heard him before on the sublime "Best Love" and the Dixie Chicks add a feminine touch to "You;" the guest appearances end there although bluegrass banjo king Tony Trischka makes a significant contribution via his production work. Martin opens a live take of "Atheists Don't Have No Songs" with a bit of levity, appropriate enough for the tongue-in-cheek song and the album ends with another live cut, a take on "King Tut," the lyrically jokey tune that Martin originally cut with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band back in 1978.

Mike Zito

Eclecto Groove

This album's title doesn't refer to the dog; rather it refers to the silhouette of the dog that serves as the logo for the iconic Greyhound bus line, the ubiquitous provider of interstate travel for those who are a little short of cash and completely out of luck. Suffice it to say then that Greyhound is full of songs of the road, portrayed here in the Tom Petty-like "Roll On" and the John Mellencamp-ish title cut as a less than romantic place to be. Zito shines on the buzzing blues number "Judgment Day" where he sounds like Bob Seger channeling Muddy Waters, all the while reeling off stinging guitar licks that get progressively more intense with every solo. Other highlights include the acoustic and country-tinged "Motel Blues," the funky "Until the Day I Die" and another Seger-like number that is perhaps the album's strongest cut---the slow and ominous, slide guitar-filled creeper "Hello Midnight."

Alec Gross
Strip the Lanterns: The Night Terrors of Mr. Ron Avery

(Self released)

Back when the most popular configuration for recorded music was the vinyl album there was a cardinal rule of song sequencing---always begin the album, and Side B too if you can, with an upbeat number. Gross is hip enough to split the song listing on his CD into Side A and Side B, referencing that era, yet the whole effort begins with the soporific "Dancing Music" that shouldn't have been the album's leadoff song. That may sound like critical nitpicking but you know what they say about first impressions, and Gross has enough going on in the rest of the album that it would be a shame if folks hit "eject" during the opener. The second half of the album, the part Gross calls Side B and that is labeled as such to delineate a darker tone in the later songs, is the best; it kicks off with "Burning Grounds," a song that definitely tips its hat to the Band, and also contains the quieter "Looking Glass Lies" where moaning harmonica echoes the disappointment-filled lyric. As the "night terrors" part of this album's title hints at, this singer/songwriter's specialty is weariness.

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