More often than not (a lot more often than not), musical recordings by actors, comedians, or other such artists amount to little more than vanity projects. Remember Eddie Murphy’s foray into pop, or Bruce Willis’s R&B album?
Yeah, no one else does either, and for good reason. Such ill-conceived releases are perhaps the most telling expression of the egomania that grips so many of our culture’s artists and celebrities. Fortunately, Steve Martin’s latest musical offering, written and recorded in collaboration with Edie Brickell, is an exception. Love Has Come for You is a well-played, competently written effort, and while it may not rank as a masterpiece, it’s far from embarrassing.
First off, it should be noted that Martin is a very fine banjo player. Throughout the album, his picking is understated and evocative. His melodies are first-rate — tuneful, tasteful, and winningly modest. Rather than rip out blistering, overeager solos (a risk you always run when it comes to the banjo), Martin is content to lay back, play soft, and let the music speak for itself. The other players follow suit, contributing uniformly elegant parts. Even the string section, which when utilized so often pushes a recording to the breaking point of credibility, exercises commendable restraint. The resulting music is, quite simply, remarkably charming. It won’t change the world, but it’s not trying to, and such unpretentiousness is a real treat.
But because the instrumentation is so unassuming, it’s up to the vocalist to push things over the edge and make the effort truly noteworthy. Edie Brickell, for all her virtues, fails to do that consistently on Love Has Come for You.
Make no mistake, she certainly has her moments here. The lead track, “When You Get to Asheville”, is graced by her smoky, muted vocal and the wistful melody she imparts to the lyrics. “Remember Me This Way”, the album’s closer, is similarly successful. Brickell’s melancholy attack, together with the mournful accompaniment, gets the song across just about perfectly (though the insipid harmony vocals that creep in on the refrain here, and too many times elsewhere on the album, blunt the impact temporarily).
On the whole, however, Brickell is hampered by a very limited expressive range. Regardless of the tempo or lyric, she gives the songs the same vaguely sad, atmospheric treatment time and again. Consequently, the tracks become difficult to distinguish. The problem is compounded by the fact that the songs themselves, while always competent and occasionally quite strong, aren’t distinctive enough to make up for the lack of vocal presence. The results ultimately discourage active listening.
That’s a real shame, because as I noted earlier, the music really is top-notch. It’s worth hearing. And Brickell, though she leaves an awful lot to be desired, does not sink the record. Even at its worst this is enjoyable stuff, and there’s a lot to be said for that. But this album clearly had the potential to be more than merely enjoyable. Its failure to be something greater sticks in the craw.