Last week I received an album in the mail. The packaging was swank: a fancy folder with artistic designs, chichi paper stock, some kind of funky font I ain’t never even seen, an elaborate design on the CD, the works. The music, however, was not-so-good. This week Danny Barnes’ newest release, Pizza Box, pops into my mailbox in a plain package with no designs, simple type on plain white paper, a routine track listing on the CD, and Voilà: good music. Great music. Amazing music. Music you want to cuddle with, take home to meet the fam, show off to your buddies, buy it front-row seats to the opera and a house on the French Riviera.
Ever since (and perhaps before) 1994’s Delusions of Banjer, released with Bad Livers, Barnes has the kind of career working musicians tend to envy: virtually every musician he has played with has said he was the best musician they played with—including Bill Frisell. Barnes, who is also a “licensed pilot, skateboarder, motorcyclist, flyfisher, unicyclist, trap shooter, and disc golfer,” has more recently collobaorated with the Dave Matthews Band, and will be appearing with moe. this month. He has also worked with Lyle Lovett, Butthole Surfers, Dead Kennedys, Leftover Salmon, and Yonder Mountain String Band. A spry 47, it is about time the songwriting phase of Barnes’ career begin.
Besides some clever riffing and to-be-expected banjo picking, the songs are on display on Pizza Box. Songs like “Overdue,” that feature Dave Matthews on background vocals, warm you from your toes to your clavicle on these cold winter mornings we’ve been having. Other songs like “TSA,” sound like the perfect mixture of that old-timey sound and the modern. On “Broken Clock,” we have clever lines like, “Credit cards put chains around my mind.” I’m quite certain that is a sentiment almost everyone can relate to. And with the exception of “Road,” a skip track if there’s ever been one, all of these songs have something we can relate to. To call it a country album or a bluegrass album would be a futile attempt to shove the album into categories it simply refuses to enter. “Folk music” would probably be the best: as in, for the folk, for the people, for the faithful. Pizza Box is an album that is both comfortable and electrifying. It slides into the heap of album releases this new year, a genuine thing well worth your time.