In order to tell you about Dave Barnes, there are a few things I need to get out of the way first: He sells a lot of records. He fills a lot of venues. He has gained prominence not only from the evangelism of self-proclaimed fans like John Mayer and Amy Grant, but also by writing songs for and with Marc Broussard, Bethany Dillon, Bebo Norman, Josh Hoge, Ed Cash, and Matt Wertz. Impressed yet? You should be.
Those are astounding accomplishments for sure. But here’s the thing about Dave that has always struck me as being so unique and intriguing: not only is he the single funniest guy I know, he somehow manages to be one of the wisest as well. While most funny people are known for steering clear of anything below surface level, Dave has a natural balance of wit and depth, and he always delivers both in such a way that I want to beg him to keep talking.
A few years ago, I spent Memorial Day hanging out with him and a few of our friends in Nashville, and it remains one of my fondest memories. We all piled onto rafts in the lake while Dave entertained us with his running commentary of hilarity, and we floated for hours until our stomachs ached more from laughter than sunburn. As night fell, we all settled into lawn chairs for a backyard barbecue, and we talked past midnight about good songwriters and Nelson Mandela and what life would look like when each of us fell in love and got married.
That’s why Dave’s new album, Chasing Mississippi, strikes me as being so true to his person. Whenever I listen to it, Dave is suddenly there, telling me stories that make me smile and laugh and dance. He’s telling me the story that we always wondered about—the one about meeting and falling in love with his new wife, and his tone is as diverse as his personality: a bold pattern woven with delicate thread.
Like Dave, the album never sits in one place for too long. He handles the transitions so seamlessly that I always end up listening to the entire album about three times in a row without even noticing. The first song, “A Lot Like Me,” has a Stevie Wonder-esque soulful groove that makes me forget I’m a white girl. “Miles To Go” is a straightforward rocker, but he follows it with “All That Noise,” which sounds like it was recorded in 1930’s Memphis. Listen longer and you’ll hear everything from the gospel-tinge of “Greyhound” to echoes of Fleetwood Mac on “Stay Away.” Throughout the eleven songs, Dave proves that he can not only cover the gamut, but dominate it. The songs are diverse, but the album as a whole is so light and rich and free that you will want it to be your personal soundtrack for falling in love.
Although his first two albums (the Three, Then Four EP and Brother, Bring the Sun) made him an indie phenomenon, achievement hasn’t changed the fabric of his character a bit. He’s still the guy I call for solid advice, the guy who will spend a Saturday helping a friend move, and the guy who I fully expect to replace David Letterman someday. He’s easy to be around and impossible to grow tired of, and that’s why the entire company of his fans and friends rallies around his successes, happy to see his hard work coming to fruition.
There was a night not long ago when all of this played out perfectly. It was the album release show for Chasing Mississippi, and Nashville’s Exit/In had sold out of tickets weeks in advance. During the final song, Dave’s friends and contemporaries joined him on his version of “Easy” by The Commodores. As Broussard, Hoge, and Wertz all took the stage, dancing and laughing, Dave traded his guitar for the drum set. The audience roared. It was a party. I am certain that this is where he is the most complete version of himself—surrounded by the deep roots of his friendships, celebrating. It is where both sides of his personality come together to create the kind of potent moments that build a legacy.
-Tara Leigh Cobble