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Bad Livers: Industry and Thrift

Bad Livers: Industry and Thrift

Label:Sugar Hill
Release Date:1998

By Scott Carlson | Posted 12/23/1998

If amalgamation is the current wave in music, Bad Livers seem to have blended their influences better than most. A lot of bands slap together different genres to try to create something “new”—metal and hip-hop, metal and techno, metal and reggae. (Is it me, or does it always seem like a metal thing?) Often these Dr. Frankensteins can’t hide the stitchings in their creations. On the other hand, bluegrass banjo picker and Bad Livers head Danny Barnes brings punk, ’70s rock, and even klezmer influences to his favorite Appalachian music. On Industry and Thrift—the Livers’ fifth album—he melds the various forms pretty seamlessly.

Barnes’ secret? In each song he stays faithful to the bluegrass, the jug-band music, the klezmer, the blues . . . whatever he’s (mostly) playing at the time. Then he lets the other influences poke through in a lick here, a beat there. On Industry and Thrift, it’s not, as some critics have said, Bill Monroe meets Motörhead. It’s usually more Bill Monroe, but cuts such as “Brand New Hat,” with its speedy jazz licks, have that frenetic, youthful energy that you might hear in punk or metal. “Hollywood Blues” brings on the ragtime sound, and the lumbering “Lumpy, Beanpole & Dirt,” featuring bassist Mark Rubin on tuba, gives Barnes a chance to introduce his chief strength: burning things up on his Nechville banjo.

A long list of backup musicians helps round out the sound style-wise, throwing in chops-heavy help on guitar, drums, clarinet, and percussion. Bad Livers’ tunes aren’t about anything emotive or profound, nor are they about telling a good story, as traditional bluegrass often does. (In fact, songs such as “I’m Going Back to Mom and Dad”—about a simple country hick who gets run out of the big city—seem to make fun of the bluegrass tropes while reveling in them.) Probably truest to form, Industry and Thrift is just one big jam session—good stomps, lightning banjo runs, sweet blues bends, and the occasional tuba solo.

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