Danny Barnes: Man on Fire
Danny Barnes may be a tried-and-true banjo player, but his approach to the instrument is all his own, incorporating a panoply of electronic sounds and studio effects into music that still stays true to its roots in the acoustic sound of bluegrass, country and back-porch folk. Dave Matthews helped organize the sessions that produced Man on Fire, and while John Paul Jones (bass and mandolin), Bill Frisell (guitar), Matt Chamberlain (drums) and the DMB leader himself (vocals, keyboards) may bring a bit of star power to the set, Barnes still dominates with his inventive picking and bluesy pipes. The songs address the tenuous circumstances many working-class people face in these troubled times with plenty of compassion and a shard of ironic humor. Barnes shows off his banjo prowess on “The Less That I Know,” playing guitar-like rhythms to support his brittle leads as he describes a man facing the grim prospect of unemployment after a lifetime of backbreaking labor. His jazzy fills dance around Chamberlain’s syncopated drumming on “Hey Man,” the portrait of a tired worker wondering what he’s going to do when his money finally runs out. The most uplifting track is “Zundapp,” a jaunty ode to the freedom of jumping on a motorcycle that’s driven by a sprightly backbeat and a brilliant solo. On “Awful Strange,” Barnes sings, “I pick the banjo when I don’t know what to do, but it’s an overly modest assessment of the prowess he displays here with every well-placed note, especially on the track’s lengthy phase-shifted solo.