Record Review - 2 August 08 2001

Retreating from the loops and techno touches of the final Bad Livers album, and moving from Austin to Seattle, Danny Barnes leaves the smirky hillbilly covers of Slayer and Iggy Pop behind for a return to his bluegrass roots. While the wildman banjo/guitarist still pushes the envelope by covering T. Rex's "Broken Hearted Blues" and adding a full string section on two tracks, Things I Done Wrong keeps the bluegrass faith with its stripped-down percussion-less backing of stark fiddle and bass.

But there's more simmering beneath the surface. When Barnes' plays it straight on Bluegrass King Jimmy Martin's "Better Times A-Comin'" or the yee-hah pickin' and grinnin' of "Devil on the Mountain," he sounds as traditional as Bill Monroe. Yet his nasal voice and crusty delivery belie the quirky, occasionally sardonic words ("My baby's fingers taste like Coca-Cola, she stuck her titty in my root beer soda") apparent only after repeated playings.

Produced by NYC jazzman Wayne Horvitz, the crisp sound seldom strays from the basic trio format. Whether he's singing about the thoughts of a madman in the album's opening "Funtime" or the jaunty lament of "All Alone for Christmas," Barnes' twangy approach stays raw yet accessible.

Not as forcibly skewed as his previous work, the album brims with crackling energy, often masking unusually droll, occasionally cynical lyrics. The recording works on a basic musical level, but you just can't keep a good ironist down. Like a snake in the grass, Danny Barnes blends into his bluegrass surroundings before biting the unsuspecting wanderer with wry lyrical poison, proving he's still a Bad Liver at heart.

Danny Barnes & Thee Old Codgers play the Red Light Café Sat., Aug. 11.??