Boy Named Banjo
“Our band has so many different sides and personalities to it,” says Boy Named Banjo’s Barton Davies. “One minute we might be singing bluegrass harmonies around a condenser mic, and the next we’ve got these big, distorted guitars and pounding, rock and roll drums. This album feels like the first time we’ve been able to capture it all at once, the first time we’ve been able to bottle that live energy and share it on a record.”
Dusk, Boy Named Banjo’s exhilarating new album, is indeed an electrifying dose of lightning in a bottle, one that explores the full sonic and emotional spectrum of the band’s rich, eclectic sound, from late-night, feel-good, fall-in-love party anthems to stripped-down, introspective meditations on loneliness, loss, and letting go. The writing is keen and incisive here, artfully grappling with lust and longing, hope and heartbreak, regret and redemption, and the Nashville five-piece’s performances are nothing short of exhilarating, blurring the lines between Music Row and Laurel Canyon with lush harmonies and bold, cinematic arrangements. The result is a masterfully crafted, larger-than-life major label debut from a band that continues to grow by leaps and bounds with every release, an ambitious, emotional whirlwind that embraces the bitter with the sweet at every turn.
“We wanted to make a big statement with our first full-length release on Mercury,” says guitarist William Reames. ”Our influences have always been really broad and our sound has always been really wide-ranging, and we didn’t want to shy away from that. At the end of the day, this is who we are.”
Launched while Davies and Reames were still just students in high school, Boy Named Banjo got its start busking on the streets of Nashville, where a passing tourist inadvertently named the group by yelling, “Play that banjo, boy!” as Davies picked outside Robert’s Western World. Performing initially as a trio with fellow classmate Willard Logan on mandolin, the group began life as an old-school string band, but their sound quickly evolved into something more adventurous with the addition of bassist Ford Garrard and drummer Sam McCullough, who joined after returning home from college.
“We’re not a band that just got thrown together in the studio,” explains Reames, who splits songwriting and vocal duties with Davies. “We’re a group of best friends who’ve been doing this together since we were kids, and it shows in our music. We’ve spent a lot of time finding ourselves and our sound.”
That evolution is plain to hear across the group’s remarkable catalog. Their bare bones, self-released 2012 debut, The Tanglewood Sessions, helped earn the band a spot at Bonnaroo, while their more fleshed-out 2014 follow-up, Long Story Short, led to festival slots everywhere from Hangout to Dierks Bentley’s Seven Peaks, and their pop-tinged 2021 EP, Circles, landed them performances at the Ryman and the Grand Ole Opry alongside dates supporting the likes of Kip Moore, Hank Williams, Jr., Old Crow Medicine Show, and the Cadillac Three. With their star on the rise, the obvious next step might have been to chase a hit single at country radio, but Boy Named Banjo had bigger plans.
“We tour too much to live off one song at a time,” says bassist Ford Garrard, “so we decided to just quietly start cutting a full album on our own.”
Working out of a series of makeshift studios with longtime collaborator Oscar Charles (Charlie Worsham, Chase Rice), the band began laying down what would become Dusk in secret, experimenting with new sounds and recording techniques as they chased the freewheeling excitement and undeniable emotional impact of their live shows.
“We probably could have gotten canned for going rogue like that,” Reames confesses, “but when we invited our team to hear what we’d been working on, everybody came around and got onboard.”
Take a listen to album opener “Something ’Bout A Sunset” and it’s easy to hear why. “Something ’bout a sunset / Just before the world goes dark,” Davies sings over pulsating drums, his voice reveling in the promise of new love and infinite possibility. “The stars in your eyes / A fire in my heart.” Like much of the album, the track works its way to a soaring, ecstatic crescendo, rising and falling until it loses itself in a moment of complete and utter transcendence. The rousing “Young Forever” celebrates the joy in letting go and being present, while the explosive “Heart Attack” mixes rock muscle with country twang as it embraces the euphoria of lust and infatuation, and the rollicking “Whiskey Dreams” leaves its troubles and worries by the wayside.
“A lot of the tunes on this album are drinking songs,” says Davies, “the kind of thing you’d want to hear at a show with a beer in your hand. But on a deeper level, there are warning signs, all these little red flags you might be willing to ignore because you’re young and in love and having fun.”
Every party has to end sometime, and by Dusks’s conclusion, the writing is on the wall. The tender “Goodbyes Are Sad” aims to make peace with the inevitable, no matter how painful it may be; the resilient “Lonely In This Town” picks up the pieces after being left behind; and the aching “Opposite Directions” closes the album by cutting its losses and walking away.
“We wanted these songs to take you on a journey,” Davies explains. “You start out soaking in a sunset with someone you think you’ll be with forever, and by the end, you’re going your separate ways and coming to terms with heartbreak and moving on.”
Rather than tying things up neatly, Dusk ends on something of a cliffhanger, dangling by a thread in the face of the messy, complicated, confusing reality of growing up, of falling in and out of love all in the same night. But don’t worry: this story’s far from over, and Boy Named Banjo’s just getting started. Stay tuned for the next chapter…