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Bad Livers' cow-punk took an unpredictable turn with
Hogs On The Highway (SugarHill, 1997), an even more serious concept
album that pays tribute to the southern roots of American music.
It is Danny Barnes' material that prevails:
the country ballad Counting The Crossties is perhaps his
the yodeling Dallas Texas showcases an acrobatic
Leo Kottke-ian guitar technique; and
the closing Falling Down The Stairs is a depressed, lengthy howl
that summarizes his blue-collar philosophy, adapted from the blues
and Apalachian hillbillies to modern urban America.
Barnes also pens divine old-time tuba-based vignettes like
the marching band spiritual National Blues,
the honky-tonking blues Lathe Crick and the jumping
ragtime Shufflin' to To Memphis.
And, of course, the cherries on the pie are his sprightly bluegrass raids,
notably Hogs On The Highway,
My Old Man, News Not The Weather
and Corn Liquor Made A Fool Out Of Me.
Humour and verve propel a spirited
collection of old-time jigs played by a bunch of drunken kids.
Not surprisingly, White quit after this album, replaced by Bob Grant on
mandolin and guitar.
Industry And Thrift (SugarHill, 1998) does not suffer at all from the
The loud and bouncing (and humourous) I'm Convicted is almost funk and
boogie, and hardly fits with the rest.
Brand New Hat is another fast and syncopated Kottke-ian sketch.
But the core of the disc is elsewhere. Barnes is maturing as melodist and
Introduced by the soulful ballad Lumpy Beanpole & Dirt
(with sophisticated banjo and tuba interplay) and
closed by the mournful ballad Anna Lee
(with a touching counterpoint of accordion),
the album showcases some of Barnes' most melodic achievements ever, framed by a
tight storytelling art, from the funereal blues of
Captain Oh Captain to the epic bluegrass romp of
I'm Going Back To Mom And Dad.
Barnes the old-time revivalist is confined to the bluegrass
Honey I've Found A Brand New Way and the lengthy
Perhaps this album marks the transition from
Barnes the comedian to Barnes the songwriter.
It comes therefore as no surprise that Blood And Mood (SugarHill, 2000)
takes the Bad Livers in uncharted territory,
abandoning their controversial punk/country crossover in favor of
electronica arrangements and hip hop rhythms.
Fist Magnet sounds like a Beck
cover of Neil Young's Old Man.
The full-tilt boogie of I'm Losing has the guitar burning a droning
riff and then soaring like an aeroplane.
The headlong rock and roll of One More Night In A Hotel
shakes the foundations of their music.
But the core of the album are cyber-ballads like
the slow waltzing Death Trip,
the chaotic blues Man Vs Fate
and The Legend Of Sawdust Boogers
(that would be a romantic ballad without the
loud thumping and the distorted samples).
These songs are carefully arranged, even when only two or three instruments
accompany the melody. The Bad Livers could easily compose chamber music.
The ghostly shuffles of Looky Here sets dissonant banjo against
samples and synthetic beat.
Unfortunately, the new course penalizes Barnes' storytelling and melodic
skills, that are relegated to Love Songs Suck.
All the songs are originals, and they are all written by Barnes.
Barnes is potentially one of the greatest auteurs of his generation, although he
still has to find his true voice.
He has replaced the country excesses of his youth with a mature persona of
songwriter and arranger.