Much as the duo of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell are reaching toward each other on their second album's cover, their second pairing bridges musical spectrums. Unfortunately, not entirely successfully.
Acoustic sounding - fresh, uncluttered, and lively - but distinctly pop oriented - less narrative-based than even their last recording "Love Has Come For You" - "So Familiar" expands their sound further afield. Less Americana, more polished, MOR fare.
Like the previous album, the musicianship and singing is of high quality, and the songs are mostly brief, often fanciful ruminations on relationships. There is little vaguely country let alone bluegrass or Appalachian about "So Familiar." The arrangements are lush, but not overbearing. The only track that has much of a country feel is the barn stompin' "Another Round," a frivolous number that shares the universal refrain, "I like corn liquor, it hits me quicker."
Still, it has its moments. The bouncy "Won't Go Back" wouldn't have been out of place on a New Bohemians' album. "Always Will" is the album's most complete number: it is original, memorable and hopeful. The title track is catchy, and Martin's banjo melody provides a fine counterpoint to Brickell's voice. But, these are the few songs where she sounds engaged.
Martin has stated that this is a song album, but the songs are not universally potent or memorable. Given the quality present throughout their previous endeavour, one expects more. "I Have You" might work as a performance interlude, but lacks the dimension expected of a song. The lullaby "My Baby" is simply dreary: no Taylor-Simon "Mockingbird," this. "Mine All Mine" reminds one of a besotted sophomore's notebook scribblings. The majority of "So Familiar's" songs are simply lacking intensity, focus and insight.
"So Familiar" isn't bad. It is disappointing, giving the listener little reason to care.
The album cover depicts Brickell and Martin not quite connecting. Perhaps had they had spent more time working up these songs - jamming together rather than trading ideas across a continent - a more complete, satisfying album would have emerged.