Every so often, Hollywood actors think they can sashay into the music world and rely on their fame to win record deals without actually putting in the groundwork. On rare occasions, it works - as with Zooey Deschanel's recent example - and they're actually both respected and successful. Mostly, it doesn't (Hi, Scarlett). But Steve Martin has been an accomplished musician for most of his life, and has been playing banjo since his early days of stand-up in the '60s.
It's taken until now for the actor to actually release his first album of musical material, but he does rope in some impressive names from the world of bluegrass and folk; Earl Scruggs, Tim O'Brien, Dolly Parton and Vince Gill all appear here, while Irish fans may be especially interested to know that one of 'The Crow''s songs was recorded in Dublin earlier this year, when Martin jetted in to have Mary Black provide vocals on 'Calico Train'.
The biggest danger with banjo-led music is that the uninitiated usually lump it in with the rest of the 'Deliverance' soundtrack. To his credit, though, Martin's arrangements are treated with apparent care and thought. 'Pitkin Country Turnaround''s rapid-fire pace and 'Wally on the Run''s kick-up-your-heels oomph are both nifty instrumentals, while the tense 'Saga of the Old West' sounds like something from a gunfight scene in Deadwood.
The guest appearances are largely innocuous, however - Gill and Parton force a duet on the humdrum 'Pretty Flowers', Black's contribution is satisfactory but nothing special, and Martin's decision to provide vocals on 'Late for School' was perhaps not a wise one, as the song comes across as a puerile comedy skit.
Packed with songs that pleasantly plod along but lack any real addictive quality, 'The Crow' is another feather in Steve Martin's cap - but judged on its own merits and not those of the man behind it, it's a very average bluegrass album.