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Published: 2003/08/28
by Glenn Alexander

Dirt on the Angel – Danny Barnes

Terminus Records 0302-1

Danny Barnes is an elusive figure that isn't the slightest bit shy. He's a
visionary, a musical trailblazer, and a sucker for tradition; a poet with a
sense of life's vastness, and a country boy who loves his chicken hot and
his skillet good and greasy. He is quite the paradox. On _Dirt on the
Angel_, Barnes reveals himself as someone who is capable of
holding tight onto tradition while simultaneously innovating within the
bluegrass genre. It is his dexterous personality that allows this, not a
misguided notion of unfocused determination. On this album, he proves to be
no less than a modern musical visionary of roots music. That is, if a
former punk-grass innovator with a warped sense of humor can be a visionary.

Dirt on the Angel covers considerable ground without losing its
footing for an instant. In places it is warped and unhinged, like on the
improvisational cover of Beck's "Loser." At other moments ("Keep My Skillet
Good and Greasy" and "I Like My Chicken Hot") it shines with Barnes'
distinctively zany and pounding punk-grass/honky-tonk hybrid.

These songs manage to hold together as a group not only because of Barnes'
distinctive personality, but also because of the master musicians who graced
the tracks. Bill Frisell (guitars), Chuck Leavell (piano, organ), and Darol
Anger (violins) all add a depth and maturity that is welcoming. The title track is a bittersweet, inviting song with odd, dark chord
arrangements and a beautiful chorus, which is only improved by Leavell and
Frisell's flourishes of color and mystery. This song fits Frisell
perfectly, a guitarist who (I am convinced) could play absolutely
anything. Longtime fans of Frisell and Leavell will be pleased with their
contribution to Barnes' work.

I had never even heard of Danny Barnes before reviewing this album, and
even though I'm familiar with similar artists, nothing really could have
prepared me for this music. It is all very new and very old at the same
time. It is steeped in tradition and shrouded in the mysteries of a genre
in motion towards incredible change. With Dirt on the Angel, he's
managed to rope me into his rollicking, beautiful, left-of-center,
paradoxical world, and I'm better off because of it.

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