I’ve been a glutton for great bluegrass most of my life. The most erudite of bluegrass’ many regional scenes that scatter across the entire country is perhaps the one Danny Burns is making his way out of at the moment, and in his new single “Dirty Old Town,” it’s more than evident why so many critics and fans have been burning up with discussion over his artistic wit in and outside of the recording studio. While Burns doesn’t go all out on the arrangement of ”Dirty Old Town” just for the sake of virtuosity, if you’re a student of the classics, it’s practically impossible not to see the effect his geographical surroundings have had on him.
Whether we’re isolating the vocal from the strings or embracing the track as a whole, there’s a lot to take in within the first sixty seconds of this song alone. Although I wouldn’t have put as much volume at the front of the mix as he did, I can understand why Burns wanted something top-heavy in this performance. He’s swaggering when he’s got the microphone in his hands, and whether it’s the fiddle or the guitar, his backdrop is always challenging him to push the verse a little closer to the groove than some other singers would be comfortable with. He doesn’t sweat for a moment in this performance, and I get the idea that he came into these recording sessions intending to give a little more exuberance than what the studio environment usually calls for. The best bluegrass is heard live and in person, but for those sitting at home with a decent speaker in front of them, this is perhaps the best alternative that I can recommend this October.
I like that these lyrics meld as well with the tone of the strings as they do, and I don’t think there’s another singer who could have put the exclamation point on this track quite as well as what we’ve got here. Where country singers are inclined to move away from lyrical symmetry, especially in 2023, Danny Burns seems like someone who craves the fluidity of verses and music blending in a single thread, which is hardly the same thing as following a formulaic songwriting pattern. Every moment here feels fresh and unpredictable, as though we’re sitting before a jam session that could quite literally end up taking us in any direction.
For those who have never heard his work before now, this stellar new single from Danny Burns is something you might want to look into if for no other reason than to celebrate some of the sharpest bluegrass I’ve heard from a solo performer this fall. “Dirty Old Town” has all of the grit we would expect a song titled as much to provide, but it still sports a clean finish and a production value that has become far more associated with pop music than it has anything in Americana over the past few years. It’s a gem of a listen, and perhaps just the start of a season filled with hits for Mr. Burns.