Album Review of
Got Myself Together (Ten Years Later)

Label: Eight 30

Genres: Folk, Country

Styles: Folk, Americana Country, Contemporary Folk

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Written by Joe Ross
September 21, 2015 - 12:00am EDT
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Danny Barnes shows us how musicians can be very successful by doing more with less by treating us to rawboned arrangements of songs inspired by old-time, blues, bluegrass and jug band music. Barnes plays guitar, banjo, and even tuba on one track. Four songs have smokin’ fiddle or sweet violin sawed by 19-year-old Brittany Haas. They do a particularly nice job on the banjo/fiddle rendition of the traditional “Cumberland Gap.” Garey Shelton’s electric bass is in the mix of four songs. With a vocal charisma characteristic of John Hartford, Norman Blake and Guy Clarke, Danny’s singing and delivery have a heartwarming alt-country quality. Formerly of The Bad Livers, the multi-instrumental entertainer does a lot of solo shows as well as session work and touring with the likes of Tim O’Brien.

“Get Myself Together” doesn’t try to knock us upside the head with pretentious or ostentatious music. Rather, it has a rusticity that is immediately charming. But don’t think that what Barnes does is as simple as child’s play. It takes a bunch of skill to be picturesque with one’s minimalist music, arranged with just a few instruments, and crossing over into so many genres. This is the meat and potatoes of Americana music.   

An old-time rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” could become one of his trademark songs. But the practitioner of taste also introduces us to The Frigidairs, an imaginary multi-tracked gospel quartet comprised of Danny singing four of the five parts (Garey Shelton singing the fifth) on Blind Willie Johnson’s “Let Your Light Shine on Me.” Mark Graham is an interesting and whimsical tunesmith who may have written “Corn Kingdom Come” just for Barnes.  Capricious lines like “I’ll be the king of corn liquor, and you can be the queen of fools” are interspersed with funky guitar rhythms and flatpicked riffs. 

About half of the album are Barnes’ originals, and the title cut has a swing jug band feeling to emphasize his message to “get myself together somewheres else.” In “Rat’s Ass,” all of us should be able to relate to being driven wild by people who talk too much and just wanting a jug of ‘shine. With a few chuckles along the way from the singer himself, we can tell that he had fun recording these songs. “Get Me Out of Jail” is a sorrowful tale of a guy addicted to Oxycontin. His profound countrified advice (learned in fine folkloric fashion from his daddy, or so he says) is often pretty honest and straight: “You can work in a coalmine, You can make a little moonshine, or you can get it on down the line.” That seems to be a recurring theme here. People can control their own destinies, but many makes poor decisions and wind up on those highways of pain, sorrow, misery and regret.  He’s a good storyteller with songs like “Cat to the Rat” and “Wasted Mind,” and his blues riffs on “Big Shoe” (music written by one of his collaborators, Bill Frisell) keep us thrilled. I sometimes wish that musicians didn’t have to be so authentic that they strive for vintage sound complete with LP scratches.  Maybe just start the song with a minute of this then seque into a cleaner sound that capitalizes on today’s audio technology.

On the surface, Danny Barnes might appear a little eccentric or disjointed like the image on this album’s cover, but I know better. He’s very tuned into the heart and soul of roots music, and he has the necessary skill to present it in a rollicking and gleefully pleasing style. Relocating to Seattle from Austin in 1997, the wry-witted and indefatigable Danny Barnes still has a lot of Texas outlaw sensibilities that have taken root and have found fertile soil for their growth in the Pacific Northwest. (Joe Ross)