From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Monday, September 07, 2009

"The Crow" by Steve Martin

This would be a nice Christmas present, children.


My favorite radio station was broadcasting sports tonight as I drove home from work, so I listened to the bluegrass station instead. There, I heard an excellent ballad -- "Daddy Played the Banjo".

When the title was announced, I thought, "This is going to be corny," but the storyline was not what I expected, and the instrumentation was masterful. I'm still intrigued by the song's last lines:

Now the banjo takes me back, through the foggy haze,
With mem'ries of what never was, become the good old days.

When I got home, I looked up "Daddy Played The Banjo" on the internet and learned that it is a song from the Steve Martin album, "The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo." The singer is Tim O'Brien. The banjo accompaniment is by Steve Martin and Earl Scruggs. The wistful lyrics were written by Steve Martin.

Various luminaries of the bluegrass, folk, and country worlds perform on the album.

On “The Crow,” support is provided by the likes of Vince Gill and Dolly Parton, who duet on “Pretty Flowers,” and Tim O’Brien, who sings “Daddy Played the Banjo,” which also features Mr. Scruggs and his son Gary, who co-wrote the tune. Other guests include Mr.[Tony] Trischka, Jerry Douglas on Dobro, Stuart Duncan on fiddle and mandolin, and Mr. Martin’s high-school pal Mr. McEuen, formerly of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, on several instruments. The stately Irish folk singer Mary Black joins Mr. Martin on “Calico Train.”

Source: "Steve Martin Takes the Banjo Seriously" by Jim Fusilli, in the May 30, 2009, Wall Street Journal

In another article, I read about Steve Martin's playing style. He is not a banjo "picker".

Among country and bluegrass musicians, Mr. Martin is regarded as a master of a difficult five-fingered playing style known as clawhammer or frailing, in which the instrument’s strings are pushed down by fingernails, rather than pulled up with picks.

Source: "Jokes and Film Are Fun, But He Loves His Banjo" by Dave Itzkoff, in the February 1, 2009, New York Times

I am not knowledgable about banjo picking styles, so I offer this link based on its title, not on my expertise: "Steve Martin banjo, frailing, clawhammer medly - Loch Lomond Sally Anne". All I can say with certainty is that he is playing an awful lot of notes per second.

I'm glad that Steve Martin has made an album, and I'd like to hear more of his serious banjo playing. Do you think I make the hint big enough at the top of this post? Just in case I didn't, here's a picture too.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.