That deafening silence you are hearing is coming from every venue in every town. Stages are dark and venues are as empty as some of the bank accounts of your favorite independent musicians, musicians whose working-class artistic approach yields a gutsy and true-to-life product.
The lack of live music, however, shouldn’t dampen your own personal exploration of new tunes as musical output leading up to this global situation continued at a steady beat, and likely will continue at the same, if not more of said steady beat, as musicians are likely using time between bouts of stress and worry to write.
Right now, there are fresh sounds to dig into, records vying for space in your personal record collection itching to dig into your ears.
The latest from Danny Barnes, “Man on Fire,” finds Barnes walking his line that lives somewhere between the worlds of Frank Zappa and Bela Fleck, where banjo virtuosity meets musical exploration. “Man on Fire” further shows Barnes’ quirky genius – he’s a bluegrass picker living in an jam-groove and indie-rock world, and he’s backed himself with a stacked band that includes Bill Frisell and John Paul Jones.
Cuts like “Mule,” “Hey Man” and “Ballad of Nope” find Barnes backed by minimal instrumentation, the latter a tender closer that showcases Barnes’ ability to knock out a heartbreaker, and “Coal Mine” sees Barnes doing his own dance around traditional bluegrass, which hits traditional in content and instrumentation only.
With his band behind him, Barnes brings the freaky and subtle funky. “Awful Strange” carries big splashy bass behind a banjo-hook; “Zundapp” lives in its own world of airy and psychedelic and earthy soul; and “Juke” carries a laid back, R&B vibe.
Barnes’ banjo sounds skips around on “Enemy Factory” and “Hambone Slide,” while “It’s Over,” finds Barnes scatting over an industrial beat.
Digging into the world of Danny Barnes is fun. It’s a lyrical place where he’ll sing of credit card debt, old cars or shotguns while dropping an N.R.B.Q. reference with “R.C. Cola and a Moon Pie.” Musically, it’s open-ended, a punk-rock approach to an infinite world that’s as limitless as Barnes’ musical imagination.
Then there’s the punk-rock approach to roots music, an approach perfected by Uncle Tupelo and practiced by countless others, including Paul Edelman and his band Jangling Sparrows.
Edelman likes an anthem, and “Jangling Sparrows Bootstraps and Other American Fables” has them, influential statements ripe for a pumped fist and shout-a-long.
It’s a record loaded with punk-rock grit and Southern-rock drive, and as a lyricist Edelman comes across as a rough-around-the-edges bar-room poet spouting off advice and inspiration with a load of sneer and a take-it-or-leave-it attitude.
From the punchy opener of “Estuaries,” where Edelman screams, “You’ve got to get out from under yourself” to “Hey Harriet Tubman” and its calling out the bar-room politicians and questioning the ideas and definitions of freedom, he’s created a record that rocks as hard as it is smart, tapping into human emotion via storytelling and observation.
Cuts like “Highway Jawn” sing of “the romance of the ramble and them honky-tonking nights”; it’s Southern rock theater all the way down to the guitar leads, and a cut like “Bootstraps” nods to the inspiration of Townes Van Zandt; it’s sad, beautiful and real.
“I’ve always had a knack for digging into the drama of something rather than just handing it on a platter,” Edelman said. “Instead of saying, ‘I’m sad,’ I might try to express that in something a bit more. Like what’s around me right now, what am I doing, what is this character doing?”
A take-it-as-it-is album, it was recorded as live as possible in an approach as real as the music.
“I developed this body of work, and these are the songs that came out,” he said. “The whole idea was as little overdubbing as possible, this is just a raw snapshot in time.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at email@example.com.