I miss John Hartford. He had a rare combination of incredible musicianship, a sly sense of humor, and an unmatched story-telling ability. The result were songs that were fun: fun to listen to, fun to sing along with, and no doubt fun to perform. There’s a lot of that fun in Danny Barnes’ latest release, Pizza Box. It’s full of stories about the underbelly of American society, but keeps things in a light-hearted mood.
Take Charlie, for instance, about a loser who robs a liquor store. He gets caught, but plans to do it again as soon as he gets out. It’s not society’s fault, it has nothing to do with his childhood, Charlie is just a loser. No big deal. Another song in that vein is one of my favorites on the record, TSA. A man’s girlfriend works for the TSA, and you can just tell she’s a winner…not. “Her hair in a bun, her hand on her gun, we made love with the radio on.”
Both Charlie and TSA have that uptempo Hartford sound with a great banjo thread running through them, as does Lifeline and the title track. But Barnes seems to have also taken some inspiration from all the time he’s spent hanging and gigging with Dave Matthews. Sleep could easily be in a DMB set list, and Neighbor has a kind of pop hook and horns arrangement that will appeal to an audience that usually doesn’t go for Americana. In fact, there are several songs with nice horn arrangements, including Bone, a swamp music number and Sparta, TN, that’s straight out of the Memphis Horns sound. Finally, a couple of other notable tracks are Broken Clock, a country music classic-to-be about a down and outer where Danny notes, “even a broken clock gets it right twice a day,” and Miss Misty Swan that could have come from an old Bad Livers set list.
Summing it up, Danny’s latest effort is a fantastic collection of stories set to an Americana soundtrack. There’s something for just about everyone, and it’s an album I think is going to get a heavy rotation on my iPod. Pizza Box is only available as a download, at least for another couple of months.
About the author: I've actually driven from Tehatchapee to Tonopah. And I've seen Dallas from a DC-9 at night.