Black Music Matters Festival

Danny Barnes

Stove Up – 2017 (Wendell)

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

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CDs by Danny Barnes

Whether causing a rabble with The Bad Livers decades back, making his own esoteric recordings, or receiving accolades as the 'Steve Martin Prize for Excellence in Banjo & Bluegrass' recipient in 2015, Danny Barnes has been a formidable force for much of the past quarter century in bluegrass.

"Stove Up" is both a distillation of Barnes' 45 years on the banjo path and an expansion of his journey. Identified as a tribute to the legacy of banjo-stalwart Don Stover, this generous 17-cut, 50-minute largely instrumental album is likely the most 'across the plate' album Barnes has created. Working with producer guitarist Nick Forster (Hot Rize, eTown,) Barnes has crafted a masterful acoustic representation of tradition-based, bluegrass banjo.

Establishing the album's sincerity of intent are a pair of Stover numbers, his signature "Black Diamond" and the rollicking "Rockwood Deer Chase." Joined by Chris Henry (mandolin,) Jason Carter (fiddle,) and Mike Bub (bass,) on additional songs associated with Stover including "Old Liza Jane," this bluegrass quintet gives every appearance of having played together for years.

Taking bluegrass traditions in his own direction, Barnes re-records a few of his stellar tunes including "Isotope 709," whose destination is never assured despite repeated listening, and "Charlie," a feller who gives the old-time rounders a run for their goods. Barnes' classic "Get It While You Can," has him switching over to 12-string.

Barnes' enthusiasm for the soul of bluegrass and its related traditional cousins is apparent. "Eight More Miles to Louisville" recognizes Grandpa Jones, whereas "Bill Cheatum" and "John Hardy" are heard as tribute to those who have mastered the banjo-fiddle duet in competitions across the continent. "Flint Hill Special" reminds us of both Earl Scruggs, and thanks to the liner notes, John Hartford. "Fireball" and "Foggy Mountain Special" also acknowledge Scruggs' influence, while "Blue Ridge Express" comes from the less familiar Eddie Shelton. "Beggar's Banquet's" "Factory Girl" is revealed as an old-time bluegrass song.

"Stove Up" is a soulful album, one that drips with passion, substance, and excellence: it takes the listener on a banjo journey that extends one's understanding of bluegrass. Barnes has never sounded so assured and intrepid.