The song "So Familiar" opens with bright banjo lines and a light thump of a beat, but the first sound that truly grabs us is the voice of Edie Brickell. The Dallas artist has an unmistakable quality to her vocals -- end notes taper off as though she's half speaking the lines.
As the song progresses, we realize we're hearing a poppy side of Brickell that we haven't encountered too often since her auspicious late-'80s beginnings with the New Bohemians.
"So Familiar" is the first track of an album of the same title, the latest joint release from Brickell and her seemingly unlikely musical collaborator, actor-comedian Steve Martin. Yet Martin and Brickell have found a close connection over the last couple of years in terms of how they create music. They've already put out two bluegrass-heavy releases featuring her lyrics and his arrangements -- he's a skilled banjo player and musician, if you didn't already know.
While the new album finds them in the same songwriting roles and features plenty of Martin's banjo, it's much more of a cross-genre collection. That's why we're getting shades of Brickell's hit 1988 New Bohemians release, Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars. Straightforward, elegantly produced tunes on the new LP such as the upbeat "Won't Go Back" and the piano ballad "Way Back in the Day" put Brickell's unique voice and lyrical ideas at the forefront. And she brings considerable warmth to the love song "I Had a Vision" -- we repeat-played the song a couple of times the first time we heard it.
As beautifully as she performs them, though, Brickell's latest lyrics aren't necessarily coming from her own experience. So Familiar features songs written for characters in her and Martin's new musical, Bright Star, which is making its Broadway debut early next year. Perhaps that's why the songs themselves are so immediately accessible -- there'll be a need for them to instantly connect when characters sing them onstage.
So Familiar is available in stores and on all major streaming services. Brickell is one of a few North-Texas-tied artists playing with different styles of late:
• One-time Dallas resident and Jonas Brothers alumnus Joe Jonas brought his brand-new music project, DNCE, to Dallas' House of Blues over the weekend. If the reaction from the packed Cambridge Room was any indication, the 26-year-old Jonas might be onto something with the dance-funk band he's fronting.
He seemed to have a ball mixing it up with his three band mates onstage while performing lightweight but fun material from DNCE's four-song debut EP, Swaay. At times, Jonas stretched his higher register a bit too much (he's no Bruno Mars), but against the funk bass lines and Chic-lite guitar parts, it never became too bothersome. It'll be interesting to see if DNCE comes back to play a bigger room, or simply gets lost in the growing crowd of up-and-coming acts. Swaay is available now.
• After teasing her new track "Phone Down" via the social video app Periscope last week, Erykah Badu on Monday unveiled the full song on her SoundCloud account. It's no surprise that the song has already gotten nearly 200,000 streams -- it frames her timeless soul voice in a strikingly modern song structure.
Featuring production from Dallas' Zach Witness, "Phone Down" is reminiscent of a Drake or a Future tune, complete with a hypnotic backing track, vocal processing effects and a repeating lyrical line ("I can make you put your phone down").
Pair "Phone Down" with Badu's wonderful rendition of Drake's "Hotline Bling" (which has been streamed more than 2 million times), and you pick up on the mood of the upcoming mixtape But U Caint Use My Phone. It will hit the Internet around Thanksgiving, before Badu's Soul Train Awards hosting turn airs on BET Nov. 29. Everything's coming up Erykah.