Steve Martin has made another banjo album. Well, bluegrass album, really, but prominently featuring banjo (as much bluegrass music does). Anyway, it's a real doozie, and it's scheduled for release on March 15. Those who have heard The Crow, Martin's 2009 banjo-album debut, know that a) Martin is no slouch on the instrument (a matter we have discussed before), and b) he surrounds himself with excellent players, including some of the all-time banjo and bluegrass greats. So, for Rare Bird Alert, his second foray into the "serious" album-making world (the title has to do with his upcoming bird-watching movie, The Big Year), he recruited one Tony Trischka, long a supporter of Martin's banjo-playing alter-ego, to produce. And for his band, he made the wise decision of working with The Steep Canyon Rangers, the very classy North Carolina string band he took on the road with him to support The Crow, and to whom he pays the highest of compliments in Rare Bird's wonderful liner notes: With the Rangers, he writes, "I enjoyed once again something I had once grown to loathe: the road." So, band and Martin set about recording a new set of Martin originals (he wrote or co-wrote everything on the album), and the results are just beautiful. The album sounds so graceful, one almost forgets this man's wild and crazy roots. It's interesting, because Martin's writing on this album, both musically and lyrically, seems to let in a bit more of his abundant humor than on The Crow, where his clear respect for the music somewhat muted the funny. In the career arc of Steve Martin, it's fascinating to see and hear him at this juncture, no longer the outrageous laugh-getter, but more of a Mark Twain-style humorist (even though this album includes a bluegrass version of his '80s yukfest "King Tut). And like Twain, there's only one of him, and that's all there will ever be. Oh, did we forget to mention that both Sir Paul McCartney and the Dixie Chicks (all three of 'em) provide guest vocals on a tune apiece? Well, they do, and they sound great, too.