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there's been quite a lot written about the superiority of wave files vs. mp3. there exists a certain collective wisdom bandied about in regard to how great waves are and how terrible mp3s are. here are some things to consider about this comparison.

first off, i grew up listening to 45s, and am radios. my first radio [and i want to get another one of these] was a tiny little transistor that i carried about with me and kept glued to my ear. i believe i was about six. if i remember correctly, it came from a garage sale, and was in a tiny little leather case. am only. and i remember how thrilling it was when a song i liked would come on. at night i could tune in [at that point i lived up in vernon texas where it was very flat and in the middle of the country roughly speaking] and get this amazing "skip" whereby i could catch stations from all over the country. i would lie awake under the covers and listen. the first vinyl record i ever had, i got at a harvest festival or fall festival at the elementary school or something where you pay a quarter and you have a fake fishing pole and someone from behind the curtain puts a little gift on there. i got a 45 of etta james singing you got it, and i need it. strangely it had no b side, if i remember correctly, it was the same cut on both sides. i listened to them both. it was a well worn copy. and my player was a little portable mono table top unit made by ge. the point here is that i suppose in a sense, a contemporary ipod is a higher quality audio playback device than what i had in my initial stages of development. yet, the power of the music as i heard it [and i still consume music in those formats] was enough to launch me on a lifetime commitment to exploring the joys of music. the rudimentary playback system was not an impediment to musical enjoyment.

within reason, the quality of the playback device just isn't that big of a deal. i remember back in the day, there were these hi-fi nerds that would have these big systems and could spout the specs of various units. they typically didn't really care for music as much as they just liked have something expensive that could be lorded over others. 5000 dollars worth of audio gear and four records.

i was paying pretty close attention to music all through the late sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, and the naughts, and here's something to consider: the music is the thing, not the format so much. people love to make lots of opinions about things they can easily count or quantify. [wether or not a song is any good is hard for folks to quantify, what format it is on, and how many copies it has sold is much easier because there is an assigned number to regurgitate.] people also tend to repeat little opinions [they have heard others say] about things as though it were a proven fact and a big deal.

consider this: it would be possible for me to set up a blind test, of a wave file vs. and mp3 that 99% of the population would not be able to pass. perhaps 100% why? because just because something is a wave doesn't mean it was well recorded. and just because it's an mp3 doesn't mean it necessarily sounds defective. it's very simple.

the way i look at it, formats are like tools. a 9mm socket is really good for certain things. however, it's not good for everything. formats have different uses. my main juke is vinyl and cassette. however, i can get a zillion songs in my ipod and carry that on the plane at a very advantageous power to weight ratio. so what? much like the fact that basically speaking, all music exists for me to enjoy at once in the great database of all that exists [fred van eps to architecture in helsinki], i have various formats at my disposal to take advantage of. what a great time to be a music fan. i'm sorry, none of this killed the music industry or ruined anything.

example: of course that prius isn't going to "run." it's designed to get gas mileage. [i use the word run in the southern hot rod slang meaning to go quickly enough to be a threat at the drag strip.] however, trying to drive that big block v8 to la is going to cost a fortune. things are designed according to use. also, the designer typically wants the use to be fairly obvious, so in verbally stating the use, it's not like you've found another moon orbiting jupiter or something. it's a small leap to say, yes mp3s are a compressed format. but they are really cheap to make and easy to email and they don't take up much space. before they were around folks dreamt of them, and now that they are common, folks complain.

how does the format sound? well it depends. there are quite a few musical styles that make great use of that format [check out alva noto]. certainly if you invest in a decent pair of headphones, that will greatly up the quality.

remember, the point is the music itself. to me, the format is like the shirt the artist has on or the day of the week they were born on. who cares? if i find a piece of music that adds meaning to my life, i'll take it in any format i can get my hands on, and then transfer it to whatever i need. easy.
i've heard so many folks phrase that statement as though every wave sounded better than every mp3 and it's simply not so. it depends.

it's really cool the way you can find these demo versions of some classic old albums. like if you hear marc bolan's acoustic versions of electric warrior. it's interesting to me the concept of negative space in music. my point is that ofttimes you can sort of hear the orchestration in a solo performers head as they play. and that part of the music is shared within your imagination and theirs, at the precise moment. that's pretty magical. through the years i've studied lots of solo performers, and the best ones, seems like to me, you can sort of hear a whole orchestra playing behind them. but the orchestra split and left the music behind. i would just about rather see any performer you can name, play solo. to me, it's a much richer experience. the stones? i'd love to see keith richards with an acoustic guitar just sing and play. slayer? i'd love to see kerry king just talk and play. perhaps in my small brain, it narrows things down and gives me a chance to catch up in some way, i'm not sure. but i really like to play solo, and i like to see the great musicians i admire do the same thing. when i write songs, i tend to demo them as full-fledged productions. probably out of fear that they aren't any good so i want to dress them up as much as i can, so they go boom in the first bar. i was caught a little off guard when my manager called me and asked me to record a version of my new record just solo with me and the banjo. i had already recorded the record twice. once as a demo, once at the village down in LA in a more formal arrangement. who records a record three times? plus, i don't know if you've ever tried to engineer an acoustic record but it's really hard. in my home set-up, i record very processed and lo-fi on purpose. and if someone slams a car door up the street when i have an open condenser mic, i'll sample it and make it into a bass drum hit. so i incorporate ambient noise into my own laboratory work. however with something like this, to try and make an acoustic recording…yikes one can't do that can one? also we have this feature of my work, where sometimes unscrupulous buyers freak out about a guy showing up with a banjo and a laptop or whatever, and employ a bit of the wedding band mentality ["well gee, can i get another horn player for an extra fifty bucks?" music by the pound. quantity.] so i guess i approach solo stuff at all with my tail between my legs as it were. even though, to be frank, it is my preferred method of working because it is the most creative for me. so it was with some stress that i sat down to work. my !@@#$%%^ neighbors have no idea of the crap they put me through on this stuff hahah! like this one family has this hound dog they put out at about 7am. and he does this little bay barking thing every 23 seconds for about the next six hours. again in my laboratory work, i sample him and use him and become disappointed if it's raining and they keep him inside. but for this kind of thing, shucks. it will drive you crazy. plus from an engineering side, if you sit in a chair in a pier and beam house for a period of time, the floor will eventually readjust, causing a very audible bump. also when the sun shines on windows, they make this pop sound as they warm up. so you start hearing all these noises. boom. pop. bark. crack. thump. it's like audio whack-a-mole. then we come to the issue of trying to get a performance. recording is like this. you want to get the primo performance on proverbial tape. so if you sit down to play a song, at first you run through it…and it gets better and better. then it starts getting worse and worse. and sometimes if you sit down, the first run through is badass, and all the subsequent ones are terrible. so you chase that around. also, when i work in my laboratory, i don't watch the shot clock. in other words there's no time element. i can just work until it's right. but in this case we were nearing release date and this thing, if it was to be done had to be done with all due haste. so between the unwanted noises, and the trying to get a good performance, i was pretty stressed. see, rich guys have an engineer help them with this. i drive a 300 dollar pick up truck [though i do have a great motorcycle.] all i could do is what i always do. i just keep working. things get rough? i just work. things get great? i keep working. don't know what to do? i just work. i don't have any other response to any stimulus other than that. all i have is music and when all you have is a hammer the whole world looks like a nail as it is said. so in order to cut down the noise i would work at about 230am. i just got up and started going, though i was afraid. i just worked. and did the best i could. my goal was really to get performances and let scott hull the mastering guy sweat the noise haha. also, in studying music, i've learned there's a real science to what mistakes to leave in. so, i worked on that feature of things…leave the right mistakes in. i just set up with a 55 dynamic for voice and the 313 ribbon on the banjo [both shures] straight into the laptop into ableton [my favorite audio software ever made…well except for max/msp]. unplugged the fridge. gave the dogs chews and put them in the back room, except for skillet she slept curled up on the floor beside me. made a lot of really strong coffee and ate several peanut butter sandwiches. i handed in my work with a bit of worry. not sure if i passed the test or not. i walked away from the tracks and didn't listen and went back out on the road. a few weeks later i got a call from scott and i'm thinking "oh no here it goes, problem city". but he was in a really good mood and seemed like he was juking on it. and we talked a bit, and he goes back to work. so a few days later i get the mastered stuff and i was really happy with it. it turned out really cool, even though i sweated. it's a pretty nice vibe playing around your kitchen table i guess. he really made things pop really good. my thanks goes out to my manager on this. there have been several times, i believe this is number four, where he has said something that i kicked and screamed about, and he turned out to be 100% right. those folks are very valuable to us. i would never have done this without his suggestion. i really appreciate his trip. in the end i'm really pleased with how this turned out. you can kind of hear just the naked ideas of my music, and how all this orchestration is in my head and i can allude to various parts of it throughout the song. also the emotion of the poetry is just right there to pick up on so that's nice. here it is, with the proper mistakes well in place. - danny

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."

Here is s a video from the recent E-Town performances. On "Overdue," Barnes is joined by Nick Forster (Hot Rize) on bass.

eTown webisode 130 - Danny Barnes - "Overdue" from eTown on Vimeo.

'One' from Danny Barnes' latest release 'Rocket' is currently featured on the Acoustic Café.

The track appears on Segment 5 for the week of 11/14/11-11/20/11 in show #879, alongside Peter Gabriel, Dawes, Bruce Springsteen, Ani Difranco, and Glen Campbell (among others.) View the entire playlist and listen to it from the acafe.com website.

Danny Barnes will be featured on etown.org for two consecutive weeks along with Cake and Eliza Gilkyson.

Show #1146 aires on November 16, 2011 and show #1147 airs on November 23. Be sure to tune in starting next week at this link.

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.

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.

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: www.dannybarnes.com

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

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