Steam Powered Preservation Society review of Ricegrass

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.

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