Righteous Bell from Michael Barnett with Sarah Jarosz

Ever since we first heard music from Mike Barnett in 2014, it was clear that this young fiddler, vocalist, and songwriter would do big things in this industry. His first album for Compass that year, One Song Romance, demonstrated his skills in all those areas, and over the years he has grown in all aspects of his music, eventually winning the job with Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder.

Mike is set to drop his third project for Compass in September, Mike Barnett +1, a set of duets with some of Nashville’s finest and most creative young acoustic artists, and one with the boss man as well. Featured on the record will be one-on-ones with Sarah Jarosz, Sierra Hull, Alex Hargreaves, Dominick Leslie, Nat Smith, and Molly Tuttle.

He says that he fell in love with this intimate musical setting while living in New York city, working in some of the crowded little clubs the region is known for.

“The nature of playing around the city is that there are a lot of small venues, and I had a lot of friends I enjoyed playing with who were in and out of town. It’s one of my favorite contexts to play music in, but it’s a challenging context to record in, especially for a fiddle, which in general, in band context, plays the role of the melodic instrument. In a duo context, when another person is soloing, you have to fill out the music in a different way and get creative there. It was something I thought would be nice to write some music specifically for.”

But then his girlfriend, who he has since married, was called down to Texas for a job.

“I decided to follow her, but I wanted to stay connected to my NYC friends, so I used writing tunes in these duo contests and going back up there to record, as a way to keep in touch with my friends and keep making music in that scene. From there I got a call from Ricky Skaggs to audition for his band.”

Since living in Music City, Mike has continued to pursue this newfound passion for the duet setting, while indulging his ensemble vibe with Ricky.

“I was playing with different folks around Nashville – old friends and new friends. I got to a place with a nice cohesive list of songs that represented different genres of music that I’ve spent time digging into and that I love so much, and a collection of people that I feel proud to know and be friends with.” 

A first taste of +1 is available this week in the form of Righteous Bell, a song Barnett has written, performed with Sarah Jarosz on banjo and vocal. It’s a lovely song that despairs of the lessons of Abraham Lincoln being lost over time, brilliantly performed by Mike and Sarah.

Compass has set a release date for Mike Barnett +1 as September 11. Righteous Bell is available now wherever you stream or download music online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.