Got tickets to Mike Gordon’s Revolution Hall show on Friday? Get there (425 River St., Troy) in time for opener Danny Barnes. The leader of Austin’s semi-legendary roots rockers the Bad Livers, Barnes touches down everywhere in the Americana spectrum on his quite amazing album “Pizza Box.”
He spent three years writing the songs on this astounding album, full of wit and fun and fire, playing everything with strings himself — including lots of banjo — and getting help from big fan Dave Matthews.
It's a rare artist that can slip their material into different mediums and have it work just as well. But when you've got a set of songs as strong as the ones on Danny Barnes' latest, Pizza Box, the work speaks for itself. Although he usually plays his solo shows with his banjo and laptop, using Ableton software to loop and create texture, this night Barnes was backed by Honky - Jeff Pinkus (Butthole Surfers) on bass and Justin Collins on drums, later joined by Bobby Rock on guitar. It was an amped-up approach that suited the songs to a tee, as Barnes' latest work travels from the sincerely touching to the unabashedly badass. At one point, he had us all verklempt during love song "Overdue," his banjo dancing lightly over Pinkus' melodic low end. Later, he picked up a flying-V guitar and wailed with a beaming Bobby Rock on "Road," his tale of a methamphetamine dealer hell bent on destruction. The latter was the perfect lead-up to an end cap of Honky songs. Running on pure diesel, where even the girls on the mud flaps would be giving you the middle finger, Honky took us for a whirlwind ride as they stretched their time to the max. There's a dirty grind with a rough-and-tumble heart in their sound, and Barnes' wild guitar freakouts fit perfectly. The grins on their faces and laughter as they would catch each other's eyes said it all – these cats were having a hell of a party up there, ripping it apart for those of us left standing at the brink of 2 a.m. at The Palm Door. Although he hasn't called Austin home for awhile, at one point a gentleman in the back cried, "Welcome home, Danny!" A true original who has never fit in anyone's box, Barnes' presence is certainly a welcome addition to SXSW this year.
Danny Barnes has been flying under my radar for quite some time, and his latest effort makes me wonder why. His October release, Pizza Box, is a window into the versatile musicality of a country-loving Texan who refuses to operate within the confines of tradition. Rather, he uses bluegrass and country as a backdrop for rockin, bluesy and folksy tunes as he tells honest, captivating stories of a well-traveled southern man.
After decades of mining the underground, banjo master Danny Barnes – who here hosts the Billions Corporation's high-watt Americana showcase – has made the record of his career with the help of Mr. Stadium Tour, Dave Matthews. Pizza Box, on Matthews' homespun ATO label, also features the well-known singer-songwriter occasionally offering backup vocals.
"Typically when I play, there could be a hundred people, and half of them are in bands," relates Barnes, a lanky Texan and onetime Austinite via punkgrass pioneers the Bad Livers who's called Seattle home for the last decade. "Some of them are in huge bands. We had some mutual friends, and Matthews came to a couple of my shows. After, he'd come to me and say: 'I love your songs. I just appreciate what you're doing.'"
The two ran into each other again when Robert Earl Keen's band, which features Barnes, opened some shows for Matthews. A friendship developed to the point that Barnes and his banjo were part of the last DMB album, Big Whiskey & the Groogrux King. In typical, organic fashion, Pizza Box was delivered next.
"I didn't have a record or a deal or anything," Barnes adds. "I was just writing a bunch of songs. I'd get around my friends, like Robert, Bill Frisell, or Dave or guys in his band and play these songs. I started realizing through their response that I really had something that was pretty cool. So at some point Dave said: 'We want to help you make this record. We got a lot of resources, and I want to help you.'"
Continuing his tendency to play with an unusual array of musicians, Barnes will be backed at SXSW by Butthole Surfer bassist Jeff Pinkus and members of his Southern blues-rock outfit Honky. "I'm fortunate," Barnes humbly claims. "I am so blessed because I can do whatever the hell it is I want to do. I don't have this giant machine that I have to keep running, and I take full advantage of that." – Jim Caliguiri
"Pizza Box is a long way from the punky bluegrass of the Bad Livers, and may be the best album Barnes has ever made."
As the name suggests, Danny Barnes' latest effort, Pizza Box, offers a delicious mix of country, rock, and banjo-infused blues. With college-crowd favorite Dave Matthews on backing vocals, how can this ex-Bad Livers frontman be refused?
From the first track, Barnes amplifies his best asset: genre-bending. The aptly-titled "Caveman" expertly—and infectiously—mixes the down home and the honky-tonk with its "Ain't no different than the caveman time" refrain. "The Road" and title track further that penchant. With driving drums and guitars, frenzied and muffled vocals, "The Road" quickly departs from its predecessor while barely preparing the listener for "Pizza Box" and its toned-down atmosphere.
It's clear that Barnes enjoys the back-and-forth. Whether indulging in a Kid Rock (the country Kid, that is) and Hank Jr. hybrid ("Bone"), acronyms ("TSA"), or the classic country outlaw song ("Charlie"), Barnes remains a masterful storyteller—and without question, ever-evolving.
Danny Barnes will appear on eTown's live radio show taping on March 28th along with Jakob Dylan and Three Legs Featuring Neko Case and Kelly Hogan.
Texas country rocker Danny Barnes likes to do wild things with his banjo — check out the explosive picking on his old band the Bad Livers' turbocharged hillbilly version of Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life." Barnes' seventh solo album, Pizza Box, is a collection of banjo-based songs set against big rock ("Road"), Memphis-style horns ("Sparta, TN"), barnstorming juke-joint blues ("Misty Swan") and even a shuffling, hip-hop-style beat ("Sleep"). Barnes is a clever lyricist with a punk-rock past who understands the raw simplicity of a good country tune: The album's title track is a wistful ballad in which Barnes confesses in his sweet, vulnerable Texas drawl, "Basically it's so elemental/Us Southern boys are sentimental." Enough said.
Interview w/ Spinner.
Playing the banjo puts roots in Danny Barnes’ roots-rock, and so does a fondness for country and blues structures in his songs, which cheerfully name-check Southern towns. But his album “Pizza Box” (ATO) doesn’t backdate itself. Mr. Barnes, 47, tells contemporary tales that are wryly observant. “With her hair in a bun, her hand on her gun/We made love with the radio on,” he sings in “TSA,” an Appalachian-flavored tune about romance with an airport guard, while the lovelorn “Broken Clock” worries about credit-card debt. Some songs hint at the Band, but Mr. Barnes also cranks up to feedback volume on the stomping “Road.” Behind his down-home magical realism is an underlying benevolence: In “Overdue,” he sings, “I’m learning to forgive you baby/Would you forgive me too?”