A Whole New Kind of String Band: Carolina Chocolate Drops at Ramshead Tavern, Jan. 19
Opening the show was Danny Barnes, formerly of Austin's bluegrass-punk band the Bad Livers and currently a Washington state resident who frequently collaborates with jazz guitarist Bill Frisell. With his brown hair sticking out every which way above his thick-frame glasses and jutting chin, Barnes stood alone on the Ramshead stage, a banjo hanging from his neck and a laptop and mixer on the table beside him. Fingering a mouse and punching buttons, he called up a hip-hop beat from the computer, added his twangy banjo to the loop, and promptly sang the old-time country song "Misty Swan."
It worked marvelously. Barnes is a banjo virtuoso, capable of blinding 16th-note runs and percussive riffs, and the microchip groove never got in the way of that. Nor did the programmed beats ever sound like a gimmick; they sounded as if they were merely articulating the implied syncopation that had been in those Appalachian laments all along. Barnes introduced the songs from his brand new album, Pizza Box, demolishing the wall between ancient and modern as surely as the Carolina Chocolate Drops did in the second set.