Close to home: Pointed melodies mirror tales

Greasy Beans
At Prism Coffeehouse
Saturday, April 12

 I've always wondered about those mega-clubs on Ibiza, where tourists go to thump under suds and colored lights. Even the arena rock spectacles here, a la Spinal Tap... the band's weary buRst into stadium roar, from fiberglass pupae..

O, the humanity.

I'm glad we Charlottesvillians veer toward the smaller scale.

Saturday night, sitting in the close quarters of the Prism Coffeehouse, I felt the warmth of the stage lights; from my seat, near the sound booth, I could still see the guitar/banjo/upright bass/mandolin strings vibrate, and even the sweat bead on the musician's brows.

As I clocked the expressions of Danny Barnes and the Greasy Beans, my heart curled for their Woody Guthrie-type fictions, a mash of two-dollar bills, train cars, pretty gals, green hills, Missouri mud, and biscuits and gravy.

Barnes received his first press over his raucous, hard-to-classify group The Bad Livers. Younger crowds loved the Austin band– they basted folk, rock, and even punk classics in a strange marinade of bluegrass improv.

Later, on his own, Barnes continued to compose and collaborate, moving to the West Coast to play with musicians as diverse as Jello Biafra and Bill Frisell. In addition to his notoriously good nature, he is known and revered for his sound: quirky, pointed melodies on the banjo that run parallel to the melodies of his tales... or his scatting (he suffixes those syllables with -eaow, in a voice that mimics the instrument's twang).

The Greasy Beans are old friends of Danny, and big proponents of old mountain bluegrass. With Barnes on the 'jo, all involved parties maintained equal standing, crowding around the mic on numbers like "Galax" and "Billy the Kid." The mandolin player, the youngest of the bunch, violently strummed out some kickin' solos.

Before the encore, the boys closed with an odd bit of free-grass jazz, written by Bill Frisell; the discordant notes repeatedly jammed into resolution, then slammed into reverse. I loved it.

Barnes' new album, on Terminus Records, is expected out later in the summer; I hope he'll be back before too long. Downloadable mp3s and more information are available on their relevant websites:, and

The Prism has some great concerts closing out this season, including the internationally known cellist Matt Haimovitz. Visit for a calendar of events. It's nice to witness talent this close to home.