Green Fingers founder, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Austin Barrett had a musical vision that was simply too expansive — and exacting — to be fully expressed under the auspices of his previous band, the well-traveled Johnson City outfit Rickshaw Roadshow. While Rickshaw had enjoyed an estimable regional popularity, Barrett felt constrained by the necessity of sharing songwriting chores with several authors.
“I had begun to write more and more of my own songs, and I was really coming into my own as a writer,” he says. “But we had three other talented writers in the band. So it was almost a situation of having too many cooks.
“I had reached a point where I kind of wanted to do my own thing, write my own songs. At the same time, I knew some other musicians that shared the particular vision I had.”
The result, beginning in 2016, was Green Fingers, a mature and accomplished roots and Americana outfit, notwithstanding the fact that Barrett says the band is “still very much a work in progress,” perhaps owing to the fact that the current four-man lineup has been together a mere six months.
Barrett characterizes the Green Fingers as “a blend of Americana and folk with hints of blues and nods to the country greats,” and that’s a fairly apt description. Theirs is a laid-back, almost pastoral vibe — shades of the Band, or the Grateful Dead’s more country/folk-influenced material — an essentially folk-rock-driven sound that evinces tasteful hints of blues and country twang and even R&B along the way.
But the band’s indelible trademark is Barrett’s vocal, a smooth and memorable white-soul croon that calls to mind other distinctive frontmen of the genre, without expressly imitating them.
Barrett lists a host of artists who have figured prominently in his creative endeavors, from classic blues artists like B.B. King to trad-country singers like George Jones and Merle Haggard. But he allows that the influence of ex-Drive-by Truckers guitarist-turned-solo-artist Jason Isbell has loomed especially large in more recent years, especially now that he, like Isbell, has departed a more established outfit to pursue his own vision.
“Jason Isbell has been big, especially the way he blends country and rock and other styles,” Barrett says. “But anything I get from him, or anyone else, I try to make it my own. I take influences from a lot of places, but I try to wake up and look at them with fresh eyes every day.”
Though the Green Fingers aren’t necessarily a jam band, Barrett says he likes to encourage his bandmates to reinterpret the songs come live performance. It makes for a weird dichotomy — Barrett is at once a perfectionist, sometimes taking several months to fine tune a single song, yet also an accomplished instrumentalist with a keen appreciation for improvisation.
“I like for the songs to be changeable; I’ll record a song, and then perform it differently just about every time,” he says. “Sometimes we do a special set of songs that are live-performance-based. When we do that, there’s always a lot of blues, lots of guitar solos, and even some freestyle jam-band-type things going on. It’s a matter of being in the moment, of interpreting the crowd and seeing how they feel.”
The Green Fingers will play Preservation Pub Saturday, Jan. 20 at 10 p.m.