Steve Martin and Edie Brickell are back with a fresh new collaboration 'So Familiar.' Despite the name they take their music in a new direction. (Promo Photo)

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell are back with a fresh new collaboration ‘So Familiar.’ Despite the name they take their music in a new direction. (Promo Photo)

Steve Martin’s and Edie Brickell’s first album, 2013’s Love Has Come for You, found the two iconoclastic artists making emotionally resonant, readily accessible music. Their collaboration continues, taking them into fresh creative territory on the duo’s new, sophomore album, So Familiar.

Martin’s inventive, expressive five-string banjo work and Brickell’s distinctive vocals and detail-rich lyrics make for sublime music.

“I guess that this is the logical sequel to the first album, but it’s also different in a lot of ways,” Martin says.

“It sounds bigger and wider, and it has a lush feeling that I really like. I think that Edie’s voice sounds beautiful with these arrangements, and I love the way the banjo sounds with strings.”

So Familiar also benefits from legendary producer Peter Asher’s sensitive instrumental arrangements. They make imaginative use of a wide array of acoustic and orchestral textures. You may recall, Asher produced their first album, which was terrifically well received.

Face it, the producer has the touch. He’s worked with everyone from James Taylor to Linda Ronstadt and Elton John. On So Familiar, he’s like a fine wine; he just keeps getting better and better.

“Peter really had a vision for this record, and he really came up with some wonderful things,” says Martin.

Asher returns the compliment.

“The partnership between Steve and Edie is so unusual and extraordinary,” he says. “Steve’s a very good composer and very fluent on the banjo, and he writes these remarkable little banjo pieces.

“And Edie doesn’t just write words, she also creates these amazing counter-melodies over Steve’s banjo melodies,” he says.

My favorite track on this album, “I Have You,” features Brickell’s vocals opposite Martin’s. He’s terrific.

Banjo-ace Bela Fleck is featured on the track “Heart of the Dreamer.” Also featured are Leland Sklar, Peter’s daughter Victoria Asher, Mike Einziger from Incubus and Martin’s longtime bluegrass cohorts the Steep Canyon Rangers.

Steve Martin's and Edie Brickell's new album charts new territory under the direction of Peter Asher.

Steve Martin’s and Edie Brickell’s new album charts new territory under the direction of Peter Asher.

Many of So Familiar’s songs are also featured in Bright Star, a new stage musical built around Martin and Brickell’s songs. Asher services as music supervisor.

The show, whose initial inspiration was the Love Has Come for You track “Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby,” was first staged at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater in 2014.

It opened at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. last month and will premiere on Broadway this year.

“Everything about this feels so unexpected, yet at the same time it feels like it was meant to be,” Martin observes. “It started as ‘Let’s try writing some songs,’ and the next thing you know, we’ve got a musical. The whole thing has been a very nice surprise.”

I don’t know about you, but Brickell’s “What I Am,” with the fabulous, much-missed New Bohemians, still remains one of my all-time, favorite tracks. And, it came out in 1988!

I listened to it while writing this column and it sounds as vibrant as ever.

Names in the News

Jerry Lembo, Eppy; Lee Jeske;, David Salidor, Andrew Saffir, Brad Balfour, Canadian Brass, Colleen Brennan, Tammy Filler, Cindy Adams, Ian Mohr, Dave Marken, Derek Storm, Van Dean, Terence Mills, Tom & Lisa Cuddy, Peter Abarham, Damon Lindelof, Chip

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