Danny Burns has a passion for bluegrass, and it doesn’t take much time into his new single “Dirty Old Town” to pick up on the influence of Appalachia on his songcraft. From the minute we get started in this song forward, there’s a wildly pastoral sensibility following us everywhere we go. Although there’s something to be said about the crossover works we’re hearing out of the Nashville scene in 2023, the definitively folky look of the string arrangement in this track instantly distinguishes Burns’ sound from that of his contemporaries. Rivals might be interested in making a living off of hybridity alone, but once you’ve got a taste of the real thing here, I believe it’s going to be quite difficult to go back to the imitation stuff.
“Dirty Old Town” is a relatively short single that takes a stab at breathing life into a scene that has been begging for an exciting voice to liven things up for more than a hot minute. It’s one of dozens of songs that have attracted the attention of bluegrass aficionados this year, but what makes this one special is that it bears a certain rusticity that doesn’t feel forced from behind the board. Burns has a lot of affection for the harmonies here, but he’s never chasing after a hook – if anything, he’s allowing for the rhythm of the music and the general sway of the strings to create a pace behind him. This is a man who likes to have a lot of control when he’s in the studio, and it’s that control that yields some of the most profound moments in the song.
The awesome thing about “Dirty Old Town” is that not only is it a great ‘grass anthem to lead us into the autumn with a more intriguing variety of electronic music than we’re used to, but it leaves the kind of haunting impression on audiences that almost ensures that it will be just as playable next season and probably the one after that. Danny Burns doesn’t have the vibes of a one-hit wonder. He’s got some rough edges that still need to be shaved down a bit before he makes his way into the mainstream for more country-leaning ears to embrace, but at present, I wouldn’t be quick to alter any of the elements within his core artistry.
This is the track that feels like a battle cry from an impassioned subset of indie bluegrass players who are determined to reassert their presence at the top of the heap after years of shunning from the mainstream media. Take a look at the trend that’s going on right now and consider what will happen if Danny Burns gets the screen time that any of his CMT counterparts would. At that point, I think it would be safe to say that this scene will have regained its rightful place in pop culture after too long spent in the shadows of what has become an inferior blend of country and folk music.