Pizza Box, Danny Barnes (ATO)--In the early part of his career, Barnes was a bluegrass hellcat, his virtuoso banjo playing leading the Austin-based Bad Livers down the weird and rocky side of traditional (and original) music. Barnes lived in the place where punk, metal, and country met--where the lost highway hit a dead end and howled--and he’s still in that neighborhood. “Pizza Box” (on Dave Matthews’ label) is less experimental, with more hooks, and has some sweet, almost Beach Boyish singing. But it continues to see the darkness and yearn for redemption, going backwards (“I need a good woman in a rich man’s yard”) and forwards (“So here I stand in the ol’ Wal-Mart”), his spectacular, lead guitar-like banjo connecting the two. If this CD had Steve Earle’s name on it, or Dylan’s, it would be called an astonishing and moving mash-up of American traditions and be heralded as one of the best albums of 2009. And so it is.
when i was a young man, you could get a sody water and go in a little booth and listen to 45s. it was so hep. they were cheap and cool. it was really fun to experiment and find new sounds. i'm still doing this 38 years later. every time i do an in-store i get reminded of why record stores are so important. i almost always hear something on the house system, where i go, "what is that?" and end up buying something new. with this giant database of all recorded music, taste makers are more important than ever. a working person just doesn't have enough time in their life to sort through everything that exists. i've seen lots of changes in my life on this planet but one thing sure is the same, and that is going into a record store and flipping through the stock.
As much as we need those genuine roots, we also need visionaries to water the branches, otherwise we risk this music becoming mere nostalgia. There’s absolutely a place for all of it (if we can set aside the tired “traditional” versus “progressive” chatter). Thank god then for an artist like Danny Barnes. He stood on stage with his banjo in his hands and his laptop to the side, ready to lead us into fearless new territory. The slack-jawed crowd that got it hung on every shape-shifting note. On banjo alone, Barnes will blow a few new holes in your cerebrum, but add the laptop and his folkTronics approach, and it’s a whole other animal, as he uses Ableton software to incorporate samples while layering and manipulating the sound of his instrument. The jaunty, rump-shaker “Misty Swan,” from superb latest album Pizza Box strutted with a bass-heavy gutteral growl, a whomping beat that made someone behind me gasp, “WOW!” Sprinkling in bits of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” Barnes than dropped the beat out entirely and simply played all over it in a dizzying whirl. Beside songs from Pizza Box, many of which got the folkTronics treatment, we were treated to banjo-only versions of “Good as I Been to You,” “Life in the Country,” Bad Livers‘ “Little Bitty Town,” and one fellow’s request for the moving “Big Girl Blues.” With moments of graceful note shaping and electronic fueled insanity, structure and demolition, this was an astonishing set by one of the most uncanny songwriters and musicians working today. At one point, I glanced up and noticed the sign behind him on the cantina stage that read, “Texas ain’t no place for amateurs.” No foolin’. Barnes is light years ahead but, as I watched the moon climb the rungs of the sky over the cantina, something tells me his body of work will be eternal.
We are thrilled to announce that Danny has been added to the official lineup of artists performing at this year's Bonnaro Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, TN. Widely known as the most eclectic and diverse of all festivals, Bonnaroo is also the biggest of all U.S. Festivals. Danny will be performing on Sunday, June 13th. Stay tuned for information on special guest appearances! Tickets are on sale now at www.bonnaroo.com!
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.