Idaho Express: ‘Rocket’ science

Any musician who when given the opportunity to describe his work uses one word—"art"—is someone who not only has a command of the impact of language, but a sense of humor about his ability.

But brevity does not characterize other people's descriptions of Austin, Texas,-based Danny Barnes' talent on the banjo. In the advance publicity of Barnes' album "Pizza Box," musician Dave Matthews said it's his favorite new music, favorite rock record and favorite country record.

"From the first time he sat down and played me 'Road', I knew his next record was going to be great, but I didn't expect this," Matthews stated. "The music is smart and soulful, and the lyrics are profound. It is heaven and earth. It is Americana, from the back porch to the pulpit, shattered dreams on angel's wings. I can't stop listening. In the haze of over-produced, 'perfect' recordings, Danny Barnes spent less than two weeks banging out an album that may well save your soul."

Full story: review of ROCKET

Those who have heard Danny Barnes' 2010 album Pizza Box may be forgiven if they initially assume that Rocket was recorded during the same sessions. Using almost the same studio team, Rocket features Barnes on his requisite banjo, Barnjo (a six-string solid-body electric banjo), various guitars, loops, voices, basses, keyboards, and assorted programming. He reunites with producer John Alagia and drummer Matt Chamberlain -- even Dave Matthews returns on backing vocals for the album's first single, a righteous cover of T. Rex's "Bang a Gong (Get It On)." The only new member of Rocket's ensemble is keyboardist and occasional bassist Zac Rae. There is a solid argument to be made for this, of course: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." With the exception of the woolly cover of the T. Rex tune, Barnes wrote all the material here using his trademark wiseacre, gallows sense of humor. That said, the other 11 songs here are all winners musically. Opener "Poison," beginning with dubbed-in television or radio evangelist chatter, is the natural companion piece to "Charlie" on Pizza Box. It's the similarly narrated affair of a dope-abusing, alcoholic ex-con. It begins gently enough but kicks into bone-crunching riffery on the chorus. Barnes is as comfortable in the role of a rocker as he was a bluegrass musician in the Bad Livers. Check "Soulcrusher, a strutting, swaggering lead-in to the T. Rex number. Likewise, "Rich Boy Blues" is a funkier, fuzzed-out space rocker with only Barnes' understated vocals holding the track on the rails. Some tracks that begin in American roots banjo traditions (e.g., "Wine") eventually evolve as uptempo intense vampy rockers with singalong choruses adding to the party-til-you-puke ethos. The two closing numbers, "One" and "Safe with Me," break that mold significantly. The former uses some bluegrass licks before transitioning into a spacy groover and the latter is a gorgeous trippy Americana love song with a lilting melody and poetic homespun lyrics. Ultimately, Rocket, like its predecessor, reveals not only that Barnes is a fine songwriter and instrumentalist but -- all these years on from the Bad Livers -- that he's matured into a musical tour de force.

Full story: 

No Depression: CD review of Rocket

Danny Barnes has been around. He and The Bad Livers made a bunch of records and helped Keep Austin (and the rest of the country) Weird for most of the 90's. This trio of acoustic musicians led by Mr. Barnes, a banjo player, opened for the Butthole Surfers on an early tour. BS member Paul Leary produced their first record, and the punk crowd took them in when the acoustic crowd didn't know what to do with them.

Full story: 


Danny Barnes has come to redefine the banjo's perceived image in an eclectic career for which genre definitions have merely been a polite suggestion. From his early days as the driving force behind the impressive Austin-based Bad Livers, a band of pioneering Americana missionaries, through a prolific solo career and the development of his trademark 'folkTronics' project, a startling approach that incorporates digital technology and various effect pedals to stretch the tonal range of the instrument, Barnes has always listened to his proudly offbeat inner voice.

On 'Rocket', Barnes continues to push the envelop and reinvent the wheel with the creation of the 'Barnjo 15,000'; a prototype of a hard body electric banjo with pickups that allow him to showcase his love for rock and roll, and his passion for melding genres together in a style that is quite frankly, all of his own making.

Fans who pre-order the album will automatically be entered to win a super deluxe grand prize including a custom Danny Barnes model Bishline banjo, a skateboard with custom Danny Barnes artwork, an Estes E-Kit Model Rocket, a t-shirt with album art, an old-school cassette boom box, and an immediate download of 'Angel' (an solo acoustic banjo recording of the album with vocals). As part of the release, ATO is making three configurations of the album available; studio (CD), solo acoustic banjo with vocals (CD), and demos (cassette). For additional details, please visit:

Barnes' cover of T-Rex's "Get It On (Bang A Gong)" is the lead single from 'Rocket', goes to radio this week, with Dave Matthews on background vocals on. Matthews, a longtime fan of Barnes, signed him to his label, New York-based ATO Records. The album was produced by John Alagia (Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Jason Mraz) and features Matt Chamberlain (Pearl Jam, David Bowie, T Bone Burnett) on drums.

According to Matthews, 'Rocket' is my favorite new music...the music is smart and soulful, and the lyrics are profound. It is heaven and earth. It is Americana, from the back porch to the pulpit, shattered dreams on angels' wings. I can't stop listening. In the haze of over produced, 'perfect' recordings, Danny Barnes spent less than two weeks banging out an album that may well save your soul."

With 'Rocket', Barnes spins tales of American life like a latter-day John Steinbeck, wielding banjo and pen with equal effect, and the character of his voice as the perfect mouthpiece to truly bring these songs and stories to life. 'Rocket' comes stuffed with sharp hooks and addictive vocal and instrumental melodies, but it's Barnes' skills as a storyteller that shine strong. He tells tales with the wry wit and humor of Garrison Keilor, the lyrical eccentricities and intellect of Randy Newman, performed with the southern twang and swagger of Levon Helm. Barnes combines and blends all of these elements into a style that is uniquely his own.

The list of artists he has performed alongside is as eclectic as his music and includes Bela Fleck, Robert Earl Keen, Lyle Lovett, Government Mule, Bill Frisell and members of the Butthole Surfers, Dead Kennedys and Ministry. Barnes is prominently featured on two tracks on Dave Matthews Band's latest Grammy nominated album, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. Rocket will be officially available at all digital and physical retailers on November 8th, 2011.

The track listing is as follows:
1) Poison
2) Low
3) Fun
4) Angel
5) Soul Crusher
6) Bang A Gong (Get It On)
7) S.O.T.
8) Wine
9) Rich Boy Blues
10) One
11) Safe

Full story: 

Barnes teams up with Larry Keel

Look through Larry Keel's discography and it's easy to see that the Virginia-based flat picking guitarist is fond of jamming with others.

He has made albums with several different groups, individual acts and his family.

Now, he's making music with banjoist Danny Barnes.

The duo, along with Keel's wife Jenny on bass, play at 9 p.m. Thursday at the Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain, N.C.

“I love being able to present something new to the crowd,” Keel said. “Mixing it up keeps it fun for the crowd and for myself.”

He and Barnes met up several years ago at the Northwest String Summit Music Festival and have played together on several occasions.

Keel is a big fan of Barnes' music.

“I love a chance to play music with Danny Barnes, I tell ya. He's just the newest, greatest songwriter that I've heard,” Keel said.

“Danny is one of a kind, entirely. He's an amazing banjo player, and completely different from Bela Fleck or Tony Trischka or any of them. His song writing, I don't know, he's like the new John Hartford, I think.”

Their music, Keel said, comes from different sides but “we think it makes for a very interesting show.”

While they don't have a project together, they do have some songs worked up and ready to share. They'll send us other material, then get together a few days before gigs to work up the songs and work on other music.

Adding Keel's wife, Jenny, is a perfect accompaniment to Keel and Barnes.

“It rounds everything out really full and gives people something they can understand with the hard-driving bass beat up in there and a lot of harmony singing as well,” Keel said. “It rounds things out perfectly.”

Keel is one of the top acoustic flat pickers performing today. He'll pick up a banjo or mandolin on occasion, but loves playing his guitar.

It's not his only love, though. Keel is just as comfortable catching fish as he is snagging new fans.

“I fish for everything,” he said. “Every kind of trout. I do a lot of bass fishing on rivers and lakes. I get out to the salt waters as much as I can. I try to cover all the bases that way.

“Sometimes, depending upon where we are playing if there's a good lake or pond or river nearby and we have enough time, I'll try to get out and hit the water.”

Full story: Danny Barnes entertains New Orleans Jazz Fest crowd with guitar skills

Alternative folk rocker Danny Barnes toiled over his electric guitar at the New Orleans Jazz Fest this afternoon, earning praise for his agile fingers from both longtime fans and first-time listeners.

The muscles in Barnes' tattooed arms flexed and his stringy blonde hair hung in his face as he worked to crank out songs like "Caveman" for an audience gathered in the shade around the Lagniappe Stage.

Barnes, who teamed with a drummer for today's performance, is known for his unusual innovations on the banjo and collaboration with Dave Matthews, who is featured on Barnes' album "Pizza Box." Barnes is also known for heading the now-defunct acoustic punk-rock band the Bad Livers.
Brian Kelley of Fond du Lac, Wis., said he owns all of Barnes' albums, but today marked his first time experiencing a live performance by the banjo and guitar player.

"He's a virtuoso," said Brian Kelley of Fond du Lac, Wis. "I've never seen a guy's fingers move faster on the frets."
Kelley said he also likes Barnes' voice, particularly his "twang factor."

Kelley, who attended Jazz Fest with a group of friends from other parts of the country, said Barnes and John Mooney & Bluesiana formed the main attractions for him.

Pam Pacelli of Davis, Calif., said she and her husband, Mike Harty, discovered Barnes while researching Jazz Fest acts online.
"I heard him, and I thought he sounded interesting," Pacelli said, adding that she liked the pairing of Barnes with the drummer. "I like the way they work together."

Like others, Harty expressed respect for Barnes' picking skills.

"I just think he really understands his guitar," Harty said. "He makes sounds with it that are very unusual."

Dave Dikeman of Hawaii, who caught the show with a group of his college and high school friends, said he has seen Barnes perform a number of times.
"This guy has just obviously been absorbed with his guitar playing for 100 years," Barnes said. "He's a great, unique guitar player."
Caprice Castano of Fountain Valley, Calif., said she walked over to the Lagniappe Stage to relax in the shade, but wound up enjoying the sounds of Barnes. She said his sound reminds her of The Black Keys with a bit of The White Stripes.

"It's good," she decided.

Barnes' influences include genres as varied as bluegrass and metal. The musician paused near the middle of his show to compliment New Orleans heavy metal musicians, mentioning local bands Down and Goatwhore.

"You guys have got a cool metal scene down here," Barnes told the crowd.

Full story: 

Knoxville Metro Pulse: Danny Barnes Rescues the Banjo From Its Unfortunate History

Composer, singer/songwriter, and banjoist extraordinaire Danny Barnes is contemplating his instrument’s bad rap.

“Folks are overwhelmed with images and sounds in contemporary life,” Barnes says. “And they deal with this overstimulation by grouping things in the easiest way. ‘Oh, that guy, well, he’s rich. That guy over there only has one leg. What’s the easiest way to group them so we can get on with it?’

“I look at a banjo like a pencil. You can draw whatever you want with a simple pencil. It’s a channel to get the idea out, it isn’t the idea. But that’s not really the way our world is ordered in a meta-narrative sense, I don’t suspect. I like the way the bible talks about seeing things the way a child sees things; that’s perhaps a more creative way to see things. I like the way the philosopher George Berkeley talked about how things only exist in their particulars.”

Full story: 

NY Times: Astoria, Oregon, Discovers a Waterfront Chic

IT was a damp, wind-whipped Thursday night in Astoria, Ore., but inside the Fort George Brewery & Public House an eclectic, standing-room-only crowd kept warm and dry. Ol’ Danny Barnes, a Washington State-based singer and banjoist, twanged and crooned before a hooting audience of Astorians who had poured into the space on their way home from work. In the crowd were Coast Guard officers, marine biologists, nursing students — and the waitress who had served me lunch earlier that day.

I finagled a stool at the pub’s sturdy wooden counter and, taking a cue from my bar mates, ordered beer-battered fish and chips and a dark, potent stout. Occupying the next stool over was Josef Gault, a Fort George regular and self-described “wild Hungarian.” Mr. Gault — actually a native of Detroit — is a musician and cultural events coordinator at the local community college. In his estimation, the town’s blustery climate and its cultural vibrancy are intertwined. “Because of its turbulent weather,” he said, “Astoria attracts artists.”

Full story: 

Jambase: Greensky Bluegrass with Danny Barnes | NYE Run | Review

Barnes kicked off both nights’ festivities performing solo on the “barnjo” - a custom-made hybrid banjo/electric guitar that he debuted this summer at Northwest String Summit. Melding the hammering drive and fine detail of his banjo-work on an instrument that allows him to fully embrace plugged-in rock-and-roll aggression, it proved the perfect outlet for his own wonderfully mercurial musical nature. Unlike the FolkTronics approach he had previously taken with his music, where he used Ableton software to craft a broad palette with the banjo, looping the instrument and incorporating beats and samples, this method had a considerably more stripped-down aesthetic. But this was some pure diesel, as Barnes travelled between sonic moods and textures with a tight, dizzying quickness.

It was cool to hear the open-throttle versions of songs spanning his career over both nights, from Bad Livers (“Lumpy, Beanpole & Dirt,” “Little Bitty Town,” “Legend of Sawdust Boogers,” “Going Where They Do Not Know My Name,” “Love Songs Suck”) through his latest album, the brilliant Pizza Box. Take, “Sleep,” a claustrophobic tale based on a friend of Barnes who went to jail. He told Barnes he was relieved when the cops finally busted in his door, because he knew they were coming and he could finally get some sleep. On Pizza Box, it unfolds like an unhinged dream, but the barnjo interpretation tapped its murky, shuddering dread in direct, close-to-the-bone cuts.

Meanwhile during “Everything Fades,” on the line “Everything fades/That was made by a man,” Barnes simply let a lonely, lovely hum hang in the air, as if to emphasize that point, before spiraling down into some heavy Stooges-like stomping. Barnes utilized the instrument with equally potency on more delicate tunes like Things I Done Wrong’s “Big Girl Blues,” which he nicely segued into T. Rex’s “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” on New Year’s Eve, and “Overdue,” where he let the notes gracefully float and dissolve in the air. Plus you have to appreciate a man who wrote “Love Songs Suck” – which lent itself to a crushing barnjo interpretation perfectly - writing “Overdue.” It’s a love song which, to put it mildly, in no way sucks at all. That’s how you show ‘em how it’s done.

The barnjo also allows Barnes to more-readily tap the punk rock heart that has always set him apart from the often-tired roots music scene. He even played Minor Threat on the first night of the run for, "All the designated drivers out there," ripping out a vicious cover of “Straight Edge." It was a pretty ballsy song choice, especially on the cusp of a holiday that’s become associated with getting as FUBARed as possible. Barnes has always had that element of subversion in his music, and this latest badass development is no exception.

Full story: 

Hattiesburg American: Barnes promos 'Pizza Box'

A LABEL LIKE "GENIUS" gets tossed around too often by music critics to be taken seriously anymore. Just about anyone with marginal talent that commits an idea to tape can and will be labeled as such.

But in the case of Danny Barnes, that label is wholly accurate. Listening to Barnes' catalog is nothing short of revolutionary for a music lover.

Successfully flying under the radar for the past decade, Barnes has made a career out of thinking outside of the box.

"I've been blessed with a lack of success and I don't have to worry about alienating any of my fans," he said.

"Most of my audience are musicians and people who have eclectic taste in music across varying genres - vertically and horizontally. I have a lot of freedom and I feel like it's my duty to exploit that."

Full story: